Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Dec 2008

MNF: The Hidden Value Of Pass Interference

I always love it when ESPN headlines our content with "Football Outsiders reports..." ; it makes it feel very 60 Minutes-y.

This week's MNF feature looks at the impact of pass interference penalties on the stats of wide receivers like Devin Hester.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 20 Dec 2008

7 comments, Last at 22 Dec 2008, 4:07pm by MCS


by I am excellent at making love (not verified) :: Sun, 12/21/2008 - 1:49am

I like this article and Doug's article piece on opponent penalization frequency. It's funny that two of the most crucial types of penalties (pass interference and holding) are so judgement-based, and could be called with much more frequency. Bueno!

by Xeynon (not verified) :: Sun, 12/21/2008 - 2:55am

I agree with Barnwell that the ability to draw DPI penalties is underrated in a receiver, but disagree that official statistics should take this into account. Firstly, PI is way too much of a judgement call - close to 50% of the calls I've seen in a given season are very iffy, and there are at least as many plays on which PI is not called but should be. Secondly, I suspect that this is a penalty on which star receivers are far more likely to receive the benefit of the doubt than pedestrian ones. Thirdly, trying to incorporate this into official statistics creates further questions about how to evaluate performance. Do we credit defenders who are skilled at interfering while making it look like incidental contact? What do we make of penalties where the receiver did nothing to draw the interference but rather the defender committed it to prevent a long gain after an unforced defensive error, e.g. the CB falling down? Should receivers who frequently utilize the Michael Irvin push-off special and are thus called for a higher-than-average number of OPI penalties be penalized statistically? While it's good that receivers who are above average at drawing DPI calls be recognized for that skill, I think it's best to leave it out of the official accounting of the game.

by Packer Pete (not verified) :: Sun, 12/21/2008 - 11:09am

Pass interference is by far the most inconsistently called penalty in the game, with half the calls being dubious, at best. I would not agree to count these yards for the receiver or quarterback unless these calls were subjected to coaches's challenges. After all, a catch can be reviewed and called incomplete if review shows a non-catch. Why should a receiver meet a performance bonus because two blown pass interference calls netted him an extra 60 yards?

Last week's Packer game demonstrated the lack of consistency. In the first half, Donald Driver caught a 45-yarder, but the gain was negated because while the ball was airborne, Driver reached back with his hand and touched the DB. The touch had no impact on the defensive player, but Driver was flagged. Later in the game, the Packers' tight end Donald Lee ran a stop route in the left corner of the end zone. As he came to a halt, he put both hands on the DB's chest and shoved the DB back a couple of steps. Lee caught the ball for a TD, and no flag was thrown for this obvious OPI.

As far as holding, I'm surprised that defensive tackles don't draw holding penalties more often at key game situations. The D tackle need only rush hard to a gap, then twist himself and throw himself to the ground, landing on a shoulder. Anytime an interior D lineman falls down, it's an automatic flag. It may not be sporting, but it's a guarenteed holding call.

by I am the world's greatest lover (not verified) :: Sun, 12/21/2008 - 3:50pm

Packer Pete helps his argument by citing not just an instance when his team was hurt, but also when his team was helped. The ratio of non-homer opinion expressed on this site has to be the highest in all of football webdom--good work.

by Badsnap (not verified) :: Mon, 12/22/2008 - 2:28am

Did you guys hear NBC drop the stat on tonight's Panthers Giants game that Ken Lucas DPI in the 4th was the 1st called on the panthers all season? This is ripe for investigation (signifance of DPI on team defense etc).

by MCS :: Mon, 12/22/2008 - 4:07pm

Not sure about the team stats, but in 1996, the first DPI called against Craig Newsome of the Packers was during SB XXXI.

by laberge :: Mon, 12/22/2008 - 10:10am

"Do we credit defenders who are skilled at interfering while making it look like incidental contact?"

As a Vikings fan, that thought brought back fond memories of Jimmy "Incidental" Hitchcock.