I had one of the smartest men in football, Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira, on the phone Thursday, and he said something that we all think as we watch NFL games:
"The game is over-officiated, and here's the issue to me: I study a lot of plays, and I ask myself, 'Would I have downgraded that?' The officiating is getting way too technical, and it's affecting the game and how the game looks."
Pereira, a former longtime referee in the college and pro game, has become one of the most popular people in the NFL ecosystem because of his ability to break down the complicated maze that is officiating and speak truthfully in doing so. No one is better at this. It's not even close.
I spoke to Pereira about two main topics: the overall officiating issues, and one of the strangest plays of the year—when Ndamukong Suh poked Larry Fitzgerald in the eye.
Pereira said he looks at officiating and sees what a lot of us do: There are simply too many flags. He said he sees about four calls per game that shouldn't be made.
His belief is that officials are simply doing what they're instructed by the league and that the NFL—and thus officials—are ignoring or otherwise forgetting one of the core tenants of calling a game.
"One of my big concerns is we've lost the basic premise of officiating," he said. "It's always been about advantage-disadvantage. If something didn't cause an advantage, let it go, unless it's a safety issue."
If a wideout maybe flinches just a shade before the snap, let it go. If there's a tiny bit of pushing and shoving between receiver and defender downfield, and neither player gets an advantage, let it go. That's the way officiating has always been...until the last few years.
"I don't want officiating to be the story," Pereira said, "and it's become the story."
So how does he apply that to Suh and Fitzgerald?
Suh was caught on video poking wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the eye. Fitzgerald said in a tweet that he is close friends with Suh and his actions were just horseplay. And his words carry a lot of weight, because he's one of the most respected guys in the sport.
But there's a huge problem.
Just a few weeks ago, when the Rams played the Lions—Suh's old team—Suh poked offensive lineman Rick Wagner in the eye. Wagner had to temporarily leave the game to receive treatment.
That's a lot of eye-poking horseplay. That's got to a be an NFL record for eye-poking. We haven't seen this much eye-poking since Moe v. Curly. Maybe Suh has an uncontrollable urge to poke friend and foe alike in the eye.
Pereira reviewed the play at the request of B/R, and his thoughts are fascinating.
Pereira said he's never seen a play like that happen unless there was also an altercation. He also explained that because Fitzgerald tweeted that there was no malicious intent, it would be difficult for the NFL to punish Suh.
Larry Fitzgerald @LarryFitzgerald
Wanted to address the video circulating from Sunday: I’ve known @NdamukongSuh since his college days and he’s a close friend of mine. Quality as a person matches his quality as a player. That video is just a friend clowning with another friend. No negative intent! It's all love
But Pereira says that Fitzgerald's tweet doesn't completely exonerate Suh because of his extensive list of transgressions.
"I don't think the league can do anything based on what Larry said, but I think there's something malicious to it, at least suspicious," Pereira said. "You know what kind of guy Larry is. He's such a class act and great guy, so his words mean a lot. But you also know what kind of guy Suh is. All you've got to do is look at any part of Suh's history."
Suh's been fined over $660,000 in his career, according to Spotrac, but the fines don't seem to work. One of the nastier things he's done was during the Rams-Chiefs game in November, when he clubbed quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the head. He wrapped one arm around Mahomes' neck as he was making the tackle and seemed to secure that grip with his other hand. Besides the head-club, it looked like Suh put Mahomes in some type of Brazilian jiu-jitsu choke hold.
Suh's story remains important and needs to be discussed, because even in a violent and harsh sport like professional football, there have to be rules and some type of civilized behavior.
Even gladiators need margins and decency. And people like Pereira to help us decode right from wrong.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.