Labriola On

Labriola on Pereira, penalties, 'resting' Ben

Ready or not, here it comes:

• If you have been a fan of the NFL at any point over the last 25 years or so, the name Mike Pereira should be a familiar one.

• After spending 14 years as a college football official, Pereira got his first job in the NFL in 1996 as a side judge on a crew headed by referee Mike Carey. In 1998, he was promoted by the NFL to the post of Supervisor of Officiating. Three years later, the NFL made him Director of Officiating, and then three years after that, in 2004, he was promoted to the position of Vice President of Officiating.

• Starting in 2010, Pereira joined the media, and he has served as a rules expert for FOX where he is and has been a regular contributor to the network's NFL broadcasts. But FOX isn't the only outlet where Pereira's opinions can be heard, and what he said during a recent appearance on the "Eye Test for Two" podcast was somewhat radical given the influential positions he has held in the NFL's officiating department.

• What spurred Pereira's rather radical opinion was a simple question: "What rules change would you make if you were Commissioner for a day?"

• After reiterating his long-standing position that a spot-foul for defensive pass interference in the NFL is overly punitive because it's too often called in an inconsistent and/or arbitrary fashion, Pereira broke some new ground.

• "As I transition a little bit more to the fan," Pereira began, "I almost hate that we brought instant replay back into the game in 1999. I really do. We all know (Hall-of-Fame General Manager) George Young, and he knew what was going to happen. In 1999 when we brought it in, he was the head of (NFL) football operations. On his instant-replay manila folder instead of on the tab writing 'Instant Replay,' he wrote in big letters across the front: 'The Monster Grows.'

• "And he's right.

• "We're now looking to see if the ball is an inch short of the goal line when it's ruled a touchdown, and we sit there and decipher that and decipher that … when no one in the world would've ever thought about stopping it to look at it. I mean, it would've gone on as a touchdown. And so it's gone from correcting the obvious error to looking at an inch difference at the goal line or the line to gain.

• "So I think it's outgrown what its intent was. To me, I just would love to just get rid of it for a year and see what it looks like. Of course, I'd be out of a job probably. But I'm near the end anyway. So for the good of the game, I'd say that's something I'd greatly consider."

• There was a time when the NFL used to listen to Mike Pereira and value his opinion. It would be great if the league would listen to his opinion about this.

• Everybody OK with how often we've been hearing Minkah Fitzpatrick's name on game broadcasts lately? Just wondering.

• Back to officiating. Lots of whiny angst about some of the penalties late in the Steelers win over the Cowboys that went against the home team, with a lot of fingers being pointed at the roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Jaylon Smith that converted a third-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 21-yard line on the fourth quarter drive that ended with the go-ahead touchdown pass to Eric Ebron.

• What Smith did during the course of his pass-rush was contact the facemask of the quarterback, in this case a quarterback who usually doesn't get those calls. But this time referee Tony Corrente threw the flag, and Cowboys Coach Mike McCarthy was apoplectic.

• That the call was a ticky-tack enforcement of a rule designed to give quarterbacks maybe more protection than they need/deserve can be argued, but I wonder how many times McCarthy benefitted from the same level of enforcement of the same rule when he was coaching the Green Bay Packers and his quarterback was Aaron Rodgers.

• Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning always got that call, and more recently Patrick Mahomes has been added to the list of the privileged, while Ben Roethlisberger once had his nose broken as a result of a hit to the face by Baltimore's Haloti Ngata, and he not only didn't get that call but he never has been afforded the same level of protection by the officials that routinely is extended to the golden boys. Time for a little payback, and it was somewhat karmic that it happened to a coach who had been the beneficiary of the exact kind of call he was so angry about last Sunday.

• Sticking with Roethlisberger as the subject for a bit, there actually have been some suggestions that the proper course of action for the Steelers would be to give him the week off, to rest him against the Bengals regardless of the outcome of the COVID-19 tests that will be administered to him over the course of the week.

• Coach Mike Tomlin already has said the Steelers will be in strict compliance with the NFL's COVID-19 protocols, which means the best case scenario regarding Roethlisberger is that he'll be cleared to rejoin the team on Saturday, the day before the 4:25 p.m. game vs. the Bengals at Heinz Field. He also said that if Roethlisberger cleared the COVID-19 protocol, he would have no hesitancy in starting him against the Bengals.

• But what about Roethlisberger's knees? The wear and tear on his surgically-repaired right elbow? Wouldn't all of that benefit from a week off? After all, he is 38 years old.

• No. No. No.

• If Roethlisberger is cleared by the terms of the COVID-19 protocol, and there are no other physical issues that would prevent him from playing during an otherwise normal week, he should be the starting quarterback vs. the Bengals. Because even with their 8-0 start, Sunday's is an important game.

• It's an important game because the Bengals are in the AFC North, where the Steelers currently hold a two-game edge, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage, over the Baltimore Ravens. But that's not as comfortable a cushion as it might sound. Lose to the Bengals, then lose to the Ravens on Thanksgiving night, and, poof, it's gone.

• For the purposes of gauging the importance of this Sunday, it's best to assume the Steelers will lose to the Ravens in the rematch because that prevents anyone from developing a false sense of security about the size of the lead in the AFC North they currently own.

• In 2017, the Steelers were cruising along with an 11-2 record and fresh off a 39-38 victory over the Ravens that gave them a sweep of the home-and-home series, which gave them a 5-0 record against AFC North opponents to that point and all but assured them the division championship.

• Next up was a game against New England at Heinz Field, and it forever will be remembered throughout Steelers Nation as the "Jesse James game."

• If the "catch rule" had been interpreted and enforced that day as it was a couple of months later in the Super Bowl, the Steelers defeat the Patriots and finish the season at 14-2 instead of 13-3. Beyond the obvious – giving the Steelers the tiebreaker over New England should the teams have met in the playoffs – this was the significance of that loss:

• Instead of hosting the Jaguars after a bye in the first round of the playoffs, the Steelers would have faced Tennessee in the Divisional Round, and Jacksonville would have gone to Foxborough to play the Patriots. The Jaguars, with their power running attack, were a bad matchup for a Steelers defense still trying to figure out life after Ryan Shazier's injury a month earlier, while the Titans had yet to accept what they had in Derrick Henry and instead still were enamored with turnover-prone quarterback Marcus Mariota.

• Maybe the AFC Playoffs turn out differently, maybe Heinz Field hosts the 2017 AFC Championship Game, and maybe the Steelers 2017 season ends up being remembered differently.

• In the NFL, it's more than a catchphrase. It's the truth. Every game matters. That why you play your best players. That's why you don't "rest" Ben Roethlisberger.

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