Let's first establish that I understand that the NFL rule book is an extremely long piece of writing and is amended/tweaked by "interpretations" given to officials prior to the start of the season. This makes the rule book even longer and more complicated to administer. All of this is designed to make the interaction of 22 very large very fast people somehow "manageable". One can argue points about the rules forever-- that can be chalked up as good, clean, pointless fun.
The two disturbing things I saw this past weekend, however have absolutely nothing to do with the complexity of the rule book. These 2 instances have everything to do with the "little book" that comes with the big rule book-- the Official's Manual. The Manual prescribes the duties of each official as well as positioning and interaction between officials. There are no interpretations here, the protocol and procedures are cut and dried.
Let's look at the first of the 2 disturbing scenarios: Mike Tomlin is ON THE FIELD during a kick return, arguably causing the returner to change direction, absolutely causing the official to change direction. That official is responsible to monitor the sideline and is the ONLY person that can administer the sideline in that situation. This cannot be done while he is looking through a coach's body. The official is totally out of control in this scenario. He has lost vision of the sideline-- his primary responsibility. Tomlin might just as easily have told the official "he stepped out right here" (except he was too busy laughing) because the official had no clear view. The reason that sideline is painted white one yard deep is because ALL team personnel are to stay out of the zone so the officials can administer the game. This applies at all levels of football right down to pewee. I have played, coached and officiated for over 40 years and I can state with absolute certainty that if you MUST be on the field or in the zone when your team is playing-- if it really makes a difference-- you have no business coaching, you are just not good enough.
The second disturbing scenario happened in the Giant-Redskin game when the head linesman free-lanced a first down call without the referee noticing. While this is inexcusable by itself my question is "where the hell is the chain crew?" The chain crew is an extension of the officiating crew, they are required to be non-partisan and they are also required to pay attention to what is going on. The front stake man is supposed to be looking just like everybody else and he can clearly see the first down was not made. The down marker man ( or "box man") is supposed to be matching downs with the head linesman AND THE REFEREE. When there is no match he says "the hat has 3- you have 1" or something similar -- that is his job. He is the last check on everything. A good chain crew makes the game smooth and should have caught this. While that does not absolve total incompetence on the part of the officiating crew, why is the chain crew out there if they are not going to pay attention? All the officials did was throw the Official's Manual in the trash-- the chain crew cost the Redskins the game.