NFC West: Gene Steratore
Was Giants receiver Victor Cruz really down when he lost the football late in the game? A fumble in that situation likely would have killed the Giants' chances for a comeback.
Who knows, an Arizona victory might have changed the course of NFL history given that the Giants later sneaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, then won a Super Bowl title.
Would they have been a postseason team at all without that victory? Tough to tell, and irrelevant now.
Those points, distributed during the recently concluded NFL owners meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla, covered blows to the head, horse-collar tackles, sportsmanship/taunting, pre-snap movement, player alignment, runners declaring themselves down and deceptive substitutions.
I'll single out a few of them in relation to memorable plays from games involving NFC West teams.
Runners declaring themselves down
Memorable plays: Victor Cruz's non-fumble at Arizona after referee Jerome Boger determined Cruz had given himself up, ending the play. Later in the season, the Seattle Seahawks' Adrian Moten and Michael Robinson sandwiched San Francisco 49ers returner Kyle Williams after Williams went to the ground untouched, then popped up. The league later fined Moten for a late hit. Referee Ron Winter penalized Robinson for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but the absence of an accompanying fine indicated the NFL did not fault Robinson for his behavior on the play.
The issue: Were Cruz and Williams down? When is a runner down, anyway? And if they're obviously down, shouldn't officials blow their whistles?
Point of emphasis, from the NFL: "Rule 7, Section 1, Article 1 states that the ball is dead and the down ended if, among other items, a runner 'declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance.' This sometimes leads to confusion when a runner goes to the ground and is slow to rise to his feet. Has he 'declared himself down,' in which case the covering official should blow his whistle and further defensive contact is prohibited? Or is he merely slow to get to his feet, for whatever reason, in which case a defender needs to touch him to end the down?
"The Committee does not believe that there should be any change in the rule itself, but believes that education of players, coaches, and officials should eliminate any ambiguity. The proper application of the rule, that a runner who goes to the ground untouched will be considered to have declared himself down if he does not make an immediate attempt to advance, will be emphasized to officials prior to the 2012 season."
Memorable plays: Referee Gene Steratore and crew flagged 49ers tight end Justin Peelle for a false start on a fourth-and-1 play against the Washington Redskins. Coach Jim Harbaugh disputed the call. The 49ers periodically used sudden movement by their tight ends, ostensibly to reset the formation. Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton called the tactics "cute" (see final note here) after the 49ers drew the New York Giants offside.
The issue: Were the 49ers simulating a snap or making a legitimate adjustment to their formations?
Point of emphasis, from the NFL: The Committee reviewed video of pre-snap movement by offensive players and agreed that special emphasis should be devoted to acts that are clearly in violation of the existing rule for false starts. Prior to a snap, any quick, abrupt movement by an offensive player, or several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of a play, is a foul.
"These acts include (a) a quarterback in shotgun formation thrusting his hands forward in an exaggerated manner when there is not a simultaneous snap, (b) abrupt movement of the ball by the center, (c) abrupt movement of the center’s head or other body part, and (d) a quick abrupt shift by two or more players in unison. Non-abrupt movement that is part of normal pre-snap action will not be prohibited, including pointing and signaling among offensive players."
Memorable plays: The 49ers tricked the St. Louis Rams with a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on a fake field-goal attempt. Crabtree went toward the sideline as if leaving the field, but he stayed on the field and was uncovered near the sideline. The play was deemed legal.
The issue: Undetermined. I do not know whether the following point of emphasis applies to how the 49ers used Crabtree in this example. This one requires more investigation. I'll include the point of emphasis here, then follow up when I have more information. League officials are returning from the meetings Wednesday. Update: This point of emphasis does not affect the 49ers' tactics against St. Louis. That play is still legal.
Point of emphasis, from the NFL: "The Committee addressed the concern that some teams are abusing established substitution rules in a deliberate attempt to confuse opponents. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(k) of the Playing Rules clearly states that 'using entering substitutes, legally returning players, substitutes on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents' is unsportsmanlike conduct. The Committee reminds clubs that this practice has no part in our game, and officials will be instructed to closely watch for violations of the rule.
"The Committee also reviewed the procedures for an offensive player who comes into the game wearing a number that does not qualify him for the position he takes. These players must report to the Referee, prior to entering the huddle. The Referee and Umpire will then report the same to the defensive team. This rule prevails whether a player is already in the game or is an entering substitute and whether it is a play from scrimmage, an attempted field goal, or a try after a touchdown. If a player fails to report his change in eligibility, it will result in a five-yard penalty for illegal substitution."
Twenty-two words near the end sum up the spirit:
"If in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic on the quarterback, the referee should always call roughing the passer."
That sentence pretty much absolves referees from blame for penalizing acts that seem to be borderline infractions.
We discussed one such penalty against the Arizona Cardinals' Calais Campbell earlier.
Campbell leads the NFC West in roughing-the-passer penalties since 2009 with three. Teammate Clark Haggans, the San Francisco 49ers' Ahmad Brooks, the Seattle Seahawks' Raheem Brock and ex-Seahawk Patrick Kerney have two apiece since then.
Instead of focusing on players, I've put together a chart showing how many roughing calls each of the 17 current referees has called since 2009. Note that Clete Blakeman was not a referee until 2010. Officiating crews change members from time to time, but the referees are the ones responsible for most roughing calls, so these numbers hold up better.
Some referees call more penalties than others overall. Some have surely encountered more instances of roughing than others. But if you're a defensive end eager to mete out some old-school punishment on the opposing quarterback, it wouldn't hurt to know which referee was working the game that day.
The second chart breaks down defensive pass-interference numbers by crew for the last three seasons.
The next chart breaks down offensive pass interference by crew for the 2010 season only.
Note that Coleman's crew has called only one such penalty this season, second-fewest in the league behind Seattle favorite Bill Leavy.
The next chart breaks down the offensive pass-interference calls by crew for the last three seasons.
The final chart shows three-year totals for roughing the passer, by crew.
Seattle fans might remember the controversial roughing penalty against Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock during the team's defeat at New Orleans in Week 11.
The pivotal play did not draw a fine, tacit admission that referee Mike Carey's crew erred on the call.
Coleman's crews have only four roughing calls over the last three seasons, fewest in the league among referees working continuously since 2008.
Note: All info from ESPN Stats & Information and includes declined penalties.
Referee Ed Hochuli's crew worked the Rams' game in Week 10. His crews have called the most penalties of any kind over the last three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His crews rank tied for the most defensive pass interference calls.
The Rams might have picked the wrong officiating crew to tempt with a close call on interference. They might have had a better chance if, say, John Parry's crew were working their game. Parry's crew was off in Week 10, but it has called 15 defensive pass interference penalties since the 2009 opener, compared to 14 for Hochuli's crew this season alone.
Officials are calling more penalties per game overall and more for defensive pass interference, as the final row of the chart indicates.
Sometimes that concern makes it tough for a defensive player to carry out his job aggressively. Sometimes a borderline roughing-the-passer penalty can influence a game's outcome.
When the St. Louis Rams' Oshiomogho Atogwe and Fred Robbins drew roughing-the-passer penalties during a 16-14 defeat at Oakland in Week 2, the plays wound up factoring into the outcome significantly. The foul against Atogwe sustained a Raiders drive to a field goal. The foul against Robbins, which seemed like a borderline call from the Rams' perspective, allowed Oakland to run out the clock.
What if Robbins in particular had known that the referee that day, Tony Corrente, called far more roughing penalties than some of his peers? Might Robbins have backed off instead of giving Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski a little shove? I'll try to ask Robbins Sunday following the Rams' game against Seattle.
It's entirely possible the referees with more roughing calls witnessed more cases of roughing. It's also reasonable to think referees apply slightly different standards when determining whether to call roughing the passer. Crews associated with Corrente and Ed Hochuli call more non-roughing penalties than other referees, so it's no surprise to see them near the top of the list for roughing, too. Al Riveron ranks tied for first in roughing calls and 10th in non-roughing penalties since 2008.
The chart, put together with information provided by Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, shows how many roughing-the-passer penalties each referee's crew has called (including declined penalties) over the last three seasons. Note that Clete Blakeman is a first-year referee. The others listed have worked as referees since at least 2008.
Mike Sando: I have personally tracked assessed penalties and replay challenges since Mike Holmgren complained about officiating in Super Bowl XL. I also went back through records to include data since 2001. ESPN Stats & Information also tracks this information. My replay information is more detailed because it counts booth challenges, but its referee information is superior because it counts declined penalties, not just accepted ones. Its information also breaks down penalty types by crew.
Based on my records, Ron Winter's crews have assessed more penalties per game since 2003 than those headed by any of the 16 other current referees. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Winter's crew is calling more total penalties per game -- accepted plus declined -- than any other crew in 2009.
Scott Green is working the 49ers-Packers game in Week 11. Ed Hochuli is working the Seahawks-Vikings game. I'll check on the Cardinals-Rams referee once I get to the Edward Jones Dome a little later.
NFL officiating director Mike Pereira made no mention during his "Official Review" show of the dubious tripping penalty called against the Vikings in Week 7.
I'll try to pick up the slack.
Referee Ron Winter and his crew are almost never wrong, apparently.
Head coaches and the replay official assigned to Winter have challenged his crew 16 times this season, a league high. Winter has reversed only two of those calls. The other referees have reversed 41.1 percent of calls put under review.
The 17 officiating crews have worked between five and seven games this season. Winter's crew has worked six. His crew has faced 2.7 challenges per game. The other crews have faced 1.4 challenges per game.
Winter's crew is calling 16.8 penalties per game, including declined penalties. Only the crews of Jerome Boger (17.7), Ed Hochuli (17.2) and Walt Coleman (also 16.8) are calling as many. Winter's crew has previously ranked among the most prolific in calling penalties.
The tripping call against the Vikings' Jeff Dugan was one of only 13 tripping penalties called in the NFL this season. The Vikings thought it was a horrible call and I thought it was horrible as well.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
joe_cool585 sized up the referee breakdowns from Week 5 and said, "The real question is, how many of each referee's challenged calls have been overturned?"
Rookie referee Don Carey still holds the league lead for reversals, but the field is gaining on him. Carey suffered two reversals in Week 1, three in Week 2, one in Week 3 and none in Weeks 4 or 5. He is one of eight referees -- there are 17 -- to work each week this season.
Carey, second-year ref Al Riveron and veteran Ron Winter have faced a combined 35 coach- and booth-initiated challenges this season. Veteran Walt Anderson has faced none. Winter's stat line stands out for its unusually low reversal rate. Winter has reversed only one of the league-high 14 challenges he has faced while working only four games. Weird.
I've asked officiating director Mike Pereira about these sorts of disparities in past seasons. He has basically said he doesn't care about the numbers as long as officials are making the correct calls. I like replay stats because reversals document those errors referees acknowledge.
Pereira covered a few controversial plays from Week 5 in his weekly Official Review segment. I thought his explanation for the weird taunting call in the Patriots-Broncos game held up better than expected. It sure looked "fishy" (Pereria's words).
I've been tracking replay stats for years. ESPN Stats & Information also tracks penalty stats by crew. Terry McAulay's crew has flagged offensive linemen only six times this season. The crews of Jerome Boger, Anderson, Winter, Walt Coleman, Ed Hochuli and Scott Green have each called at least 23 penalties against offensive lines. That's an aspect of officiating I'll explore in the coming weeks.
The crews of Coleman and Hochuli have each called 10 penalties for offensive holding against offensive linemen. The crews of McAulay (3), Don Carey (3), Riveron (3) and Peter Morelli (2) have combined to call just 11.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Someone should market a Coaches Gone Wild video.
Coaches' cardiologists might disagree, but there's something utterly amusing about a grown man spewing steam toward an unsympathetic referee.
With those visuals in mind, I made an initial stab at putting together a referee satisfaction index for this season. The chart shows how many times head coaches have challenged each NFL referee through Week 4.
Challenges are subjective. Most are futile. Some seem to represent emotional, even petty overreactions by teed off coaches. It's interesting to me that coaches issue more wasted challenges during home games, when throwing the red flag can appease the locals, if only temporarily.
The Vikings' Brad Childress, for example, has a 9-8 challenge record on the road and a 5-14 challenge record at home, based on my records. His predecessor, Mike Tice, was even worse (5-7 road, 1-10 home). The Jaguars' Jack Del Rio (8-13 road, 8-20 home), the Titans' Jeff Fisher (7-6 road, 6-13 home) and the Bears' Lovie Smith (11-14 road, 5-17 home) are similarly futile home challenges. Former 49ers coach Mike Nolan (6-4 road, 6-13 home) was another futile home challenger.
Coaches have focused their challenges disproportionately.
Four of 17 NFL referees account for half of the 56 coach-initiated replay challenges through Week 4. Head coaches have challenged three refs -- Don Carey, Ron Winter and Al Riveron -- 23 times already. Carey is a first-year ref. Riveron is a second-year ref. Winter denied four challenges in Week 4, including two raised by the Ravens. Winter's satisfaction rating among the Ravens could use a little restoration.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Based on Jim Mora's general postgame comportment Sunday, the Seahawks' coach is probably fortunate no one asked what role officiating played in the game.
Referee Don Carey, who accounted for five of 19 replay reversals through Week 2, made his league-leading sixth reversal a memorable one when he returned possession to the Bears following Matt Forte's fumble at the Seattle 1-yard line. Linebacker David Hawthorne had recovered for the Seahawks, who held a 13-0 lead at the time.
"A decision will be reversed only when the referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him," the rule book states.
This one appeared inconclusive at best.
Mora's postgame rant against kicker Olindo Mare might have read differently had anyone pressed for his thoughts on Carey's reversal. I doubt he would have the ruling, uh, acceptable.
"If you’re a kicker in the National Football League you should make those kicks -- bottom line," Mora said of Mare. "End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind, doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta makes those kicks. Especially in a game like this, where you’re kicking and fighting and scratching your tail off and you miss those kicks, it’s not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable."
Carey suffered two reversals -- and Mike Singletary's ire -- while working the 49ers-Cardinals game in Week 1. He suffered three more reversals in Week 2. The NFL's 17 referees have suffered 26 replay reversals in 48 games this season. More than a third involved calls made by Carey, a rookie referee, and second-year ref Al Riveron.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Three more replay reversals in Week 2 left rookie referee Don Carey with five, three more than any other referee and 4.1 more than the average for the 16 other refs.
Carey suffered two reversals working the Cardinals-49ers game in Week 1. He worked the Panthers-Falcons game in Week 2.
Replay reversals can be telling because they provide documented evidence of mistakes deemed egregious enough for a head coach or replay official to challenge the call. Gerry Austin led the league in reversals for the 2007 season. The league replaced him in 2008. Bill Leavy had the most last season. He has none through two games.
The chart breaks down replay reversals by officiating crew.
Head coaches have challenged Carey five times, winning four reversals. Replay officials have challenged him twice. Falcons coach Mike Smith won two reversals against Carey in Week 2. Panthers coach John Fox won one. Two of the three reversals involved whether passes were completed on third-down plays. One reversal sustained a Falcons drive that ended in the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter.
Elsewhere in the NFC West, Arizona benefited when Gene Steratore's crew did not call pass interference against Cardinals cornerback Bryant McFadden. The Cardinals then returned a blocked field goal try for a touchdown to produce a 17-3 lead.
At Washington, Jerome Boger's crew did not penalize the Redskins' Albert Haynesworth for landing hard on sliding Rams quarterback Marc Bulger. Defenders were already converging and within striking distances when Bulger initiated his slide, but I've seen lesser offenses penalized.
Leavy's assignment to work a Seahawks game for the first time since Super Bowl XL came and went without incident.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Let's just say the Cardinals and 49ers will not be petitioning the NFL to have rookie referee Don Carey work more of their games this season.
Carey was the only NFL referee to suffer more than one replay reversal in Week 1 (he had two). He repeatedly left open his microphone, allowing fans to hear private conversations. And when he was speaking for the record, he bungled explanations.
Niners coach Mike Singletary apparently didn't hear enough from Carey, so he spoke with the new ref during halftime of the team's 20-16 victory at Arizona. The subject?
"You don’t want to know what it was, but it was very positive," said Singletary."He may not say that. Really, what it came down to was, when you are making calls out there, have someone over there near me that can relay some kind of information and I’ll be fine and that’s basically what we talked about and it happened in the second half. It worked out a lot better."
Also on the officiating front in Week 1, the NFL assigned veteran referee Jeff Triplette to work an Eagles game for the first time since Oct. 23, 2001. On that day, Triplette took away an Eagles first down on a fake punt when he ruled, after some delay, that Jeff Thomason had been an ineligible receiver on the play. The fourth-quarter call was correct, but Triplette had already announced that the 7-yard gain was legal because Thomason had lined up on the wing. He changed the call after consulting a card showing the Eagles' special-teams alignments. Philadelphia won, 10-9.
From that game until Sunday, Triplette had worked games for every NFL team but the Eagles and his home-state Panthers. The league seems to be ending some of these referee-team droughts after I pointed them out before last season. The fact that Triplette worked an Eagles-Panthers game -- at Carolina -- jumped out to me.
A year ago, the NFL assigned Ed Hochuli to work a Broncos game for the first time since 2000. Hochuli had worked at least three games for every other team in the league since his crew assessed nine penalties against the Broncos -- three for defensive pass interference and others against the offensive line -- during an Oct. 8, 2000 game.
Walt Coleman still hasn't worked a Raiders game since he correctly -- but controversially -- implemented the tuck rule during a 2002 divisional playoff game between New England and Oakland. Bill Leavy hasn't worked a Seahawks game since Mike Holmgren complained about officiating in Super Bowl XL. Perhaps we'll see that change now that Holmgren is gone and the league is making what appears to be a concerted effort to move past some of these disputes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
TAMPA, Fla. -- We can more fully analyze officiating for Super Bowl XLIII now that the NFL has announced which officials will comprise referee Terry McAulay's crew Sunday.
The seven on-field officials and replay assistant Bob McGrath come from five crews. That leaves 12 crews unrepresented.
McAulay, first-year referee Al Riveron and veteran referee Bill Leavy each placed two of their crew members in Super Bowl XLIII.
From the NFL: McAulay, who is concluding his 11th season as an NFL game official, served as the referee in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Louisiana State alum has officiated in nine playoff games -- one Super Bowl, five NFL championship games, two divisional playoffs and one wild-card game.
Under the NFL officiating program's evaluation system, the highest-rated officials at each position with the appropriate experience earn the right to work the Super Bowl. Super Bowl officials must have five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.
This crew should have good chemistry. McAulay and side judge Michael Banks have worked together for years. Field judge Greg Gautreaux worked with McAulay for years until joining referee Gene Steratore's crew this season. Head linesman Derick Bowers and back judge Keith Ferguson worked on referee Bill Vinovich's crew before Vinovich retired.
We provided information on McAulay upon learning of his Super Bowl assignment last week. As for McGrath, the replay official, he challenged two calls during the final 2 minutes of halves during the regular season. The league average was 4.8, with four of the 17 replay officials initiating nearly half of booth challenges (41 of 86).
McAulay's crew officiated the AFC divisional playoff game between the Titans and Ravens. The game featured a controversial non-call by the back judge after Baltimore failed to snap the ball before the play clock expired on a critical third-down play. Leavy's crew will supply the back judge for Super Bowl XLIII.
Perlman, the line judge, is the only Super Bowl XLIII official to work the Steelers' most recent Super Bowl appearance, after the 2005 season. To my knowledge, Perlman was not directly involved in the controversial calls associated with that game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
CHARLOTTE -- The NFL has assigned referee Gene Steratore to work the Cardinals-Panthers divisional game at Bank of America Stadium.
Steratore has worked four Panthers games (all on the road) and four Cardinals games (two home, two road) since becoming a referee for the 2006 season.
Steratore has assessed 4.8 penalties per game against the Panthers. No current referee has assessed fewer penalties per game against the Panthers since 2003 (minimum four games worked). Steratore has assessed 17 penalties against the Panthers and 23 against their opponents in these games. The Panthers have won three of the four games in question:
- 2007, Week 5: Panthers 16, Saints 13
- 2007, Week 11: Packers 31, Panthers 17
- 2007, Week 17: Panthers 31, Bucs 23
- 2008, Week 13: Panthers 35, Packers 31
Steratore has assessed 5.5 penalties per game against the Cardinals. That's a relatively low figure. He assessed 22 penalties against Arizona and 25 against their opponents in those games. The Cardinals have won two of the four games in question:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Tracking referee statistics this season told us which one assessed the most penalties (Ron Winter), which ones suffered the most replay reversals (Bill Leavy) and which ones almost never faced booth-initiated challeenges (Mike Carey, Bill Carollo).
I've also been looking at which referees tend to assess the most and fewest penalties against certain teams.
The chart shows how many penalties per game each current referee has assessed, on average, against the Cardinals and Panthers since 2003. To avoid aberrations, I considered statistics only for referees who worked at least four gam
es involving each team during that span.
Jeff Triplette never works Panthers games because he's from North Carolina. Arizona resident Ed Hochuli rarely works Cardinals games. Al Riveron and Carl Cheffers were first-year referees, so they did not have enough games to qualify.
Using the stated criteria. Peter Morelli has assessed the fewest penalties per game against the Cardinals (4.8). Winter (9.2) and Carollo have assessed the most (9.0).
For the Panthers, Gene Steratore has assessed the fewest penalties per game over that span (4.3), while Hochuli has assessed the most (8.8).
The league generally does not announce referee assignments in advance, except for the Super Bowl. For a detailed look at officiating stats by referee, please sample my 2008 NFL officiating download. This covers all 256 regular-season games.