Over the weekend, the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers both found themselves on the receiving end of incorrect personal foul penalties. Nick Moody was called for leading with his helmet, while Jason Worilds was called for roughing with no further explanation. The Moody hit came on 3rd down and would have left the Seahawks in a field goal situation. The Worilds Penalty came on second down. It would have set the Falcons up with 3rd and 19 at the Steelers 46, but instead they had 1st and 10 at the Steelers 21. That's a 15-yard penalty resulting in a 25 yard swing.
NFL referees have consistently had trouble making correct calls on these personal fouls. We can look back now and see that both plays were properly executed, and incorrectly flagged. First up, Nick Moody posted this photo to Instagram. Ed Hochuli did not have a clear view of the hit, and yet he still insisted he felt Moody had hit Wilson illegally.
Here is some video of Jason Worilds's hit on Matt Ryan. He tackles him below the neck area, and there is no way that is leading with the helmet. That leaves us with nothing more than a legal tackle.
NFL owners have improved instant replay over the years, but they have been dragged into improvement kicking and screaming. NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino acknowledged Moody's hit was not a foul, but couched it in the notion that we are not judging it in the moment. And that is exactly why the NFL needs to allow replay for penalties. I actually believe they should allow replay on everything, but I am fine if it is just a matter of adding penalties that are 15 yards and up (personal fouls, pass interference).
I do think there is a significant chance NFL referees would still get the calls wrong on replay, thinking they were not seeing "conclusive" proof. If that is going to remain a problem, there is one other creative option. I did a KNBR interview with Ted Ramey today, and he suggested that instead of penalizing the team for these borderline hits, you review them and fine players after the fact. That way, it gives the league time to figure out if there was a problem, and institute discipline as needed. If players are continuing to do them you can have the tiered discipline eventually resulting in a suspension, but at least a bam-bam play does not swing a game in a significant way.
There are numerous ways the league can improve this situation. There has been talk that the league could make personal fouls reviewable by 2015. Any vote on that would take place this coming spring. This is something we'll be paying close attention to until we get an answer.