January 17, 2021

Referee expert Mike Pereira explains playoff pressure

Referee expert Mike Pereira explains playoff pressure

Here on Check the Tape, we take pride in breaking down every aspect of football, from running to catching to blocking to tackling.

There’s one aspect of the game that we’ve overlooked until now — and that’s officiating.

Nowhere does this subject become more important than the playoffs, which we happen to be smack dab in the middle of now.

While players, coaches and executives feel the heat in the playoffs, you better believe refs do, too. Not only do they get graded and evaluated after every regular season and playoff game — they get an email evaluation after every game — they also face fan outrage if they screw up a big call. One too many gaffes in a season for a couple of straight years, and they can be out of a job.

So when you add that pressure to NFL game speed — not to mention the fact that a penalty could be called on every play — nailing these calls in the moment is an extremely tough job.

(Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

These officials are professionals, and they have their fair share of techniques they use to evaluate when and where they should throw a flag. On this week’s edition of the original Yahoo Sports web series “Check the Tape,” former NFL ref and current Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira joins me to break down a few examples from the Rams-Seahawks wild-card game this past weekend.

Pereira, 70, knows all about the finer points of officiating. After spending over a decade officiating college games, he also spent two years as an NFL referee before he was promoted to supervisor of officiating. From there, he was named director of officiating and was later promoted to vice president of officiating before he retired in 2009.

Since then, he has served as a rules analyst for Fox, among other things. And while Pereira works hard to help fans know the whys of when flags get thrown — and will even say when he disagrees with the referees’ judgment — he always tries to remember things from the officials’ point of view.

“When you get to the playoffs, it’s like nothing you’ve felt before,” Pereira told Yahoo Sports, “and you know a couple things. No. 1, there’s going to be more eyes watching you from a fan perspective. But also, your peers are watching you because there’s only one game going on at once for those officials who aren’t working, they’re all tuned in and believe it or not, they can be your worst critics. So there’s a ton of pressure added there.”

Especially given the cardinal rule of playoff officiating.

“The No. 1 thing that the referees have to accomplish is just don’t screw up — they just want to walk off this field being satisfied that their performance was acceptable,” Pereira said. “You could end up not being the talk of the game but you could also know you had a bad game. So you want to leave the field knowing you haven’t had any major screw-ups.”

In the video above, Pereira walked us through three calls you see plenty — offensive holding, defensive pass interference and unnecessary roughness — and the finer points of what refs are looking for when they make these calls. You’ll find it educational, since all three could likely be called every play, especially as he hammers home how much referees hold themselves accountable.

“For three hours, you just have to focus on every play and be able to walk off that field saying, as official, I’m not going to get a call from [NFL senior vice president] Walt Anderson tomorrow telling me I screwed up something. So that’s your goal.”

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