NFC West: Mike Carey
Carey has been assigned to work the game Sunday between the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams, according to Jim Thomas.
The chart, based on data from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, ranks Carey's crews against the 16 other crews by how many penalties each has called over the past two seasons. The chart shows penalties featuring at least eight accepted or declined calls by one of the crews.
Carey's crew has called the most penalties for defensive holding, neutral-zone infractions and intentional grounding. His crews rank near the bottom in calls for unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer and general personal fouls.
The numbers may or may not reflect tendencies. Game situations obviously affect the totals.
Seattle has committed 36 penalties, tied with Dallas for most in the NFL. St. Louis has committed 20. Twenty teams have more.
Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung has six penalties, tied for most in the NFL. He has four for false starts and two for holding. Quarterback Russell Wilson ranks second with five, including four for delays of game, which default to the quarterback whether or not he was at fault.
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.
Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, having already escaped a fine for a huge hit on Arizona's Todd Heap in Week 3, escaped a fine for the hit he put on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy last week.
The league reviews personal fouls and generally levies fines when calls are deemed correct. I read the absence of a fine for a personal-foul penalty as vindication for the player.
Referee Mike Carey had flagged Chancellor for dipping his helmet and striking McCoy in the back Sunday. The Seahawks strongly disagreed with the call. Replays showed Chancellor lowering his head, but also delivering only a glancing and seemingly inconsequential blow with his helmet. The hit never would have drawn scrutiny years ago, in my view, but stronger emphasis on player safety has led officials to err on the side of penalizing borderline hits.
Officials had flagged Chancellor for a blindside block on Heap during an interception return. That block was delivered within the rules because Chancellor did not strike Heap in the head or neck area.
Bryant's fine was obviously justified after the defensive end head-butted Browns tight end Alex Smith in frustration as the Seahawks were about to lose, 6-3. Stewart's fine stemmed from striking Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin in the head/neck area.
What it means: The Seahawks took a huge step backward offensively with Charlie Whitehurst running an offense that was missing center Max Unger and running back Marshawn Lynch. Whitehurst didn't do enough to maintain whatever momentum he had generated in helping get Seattle over the top against the New York Giants two weeks ago. In fact, he made it nearly impossible for anyone to reasonably call for him to remain the starter. Tarvaris Jackson, who missed this game due to injury, seemed like a viable alternative by comparison. This was an ugly defeat for Seattle and one the team can blame squarely on its offense.
What I liked: Red Bryant blocked two field goal attempts. Leon Washington provided an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, negated only by a questionable penalty for an illegal block in the back. The plays from Bryant and Washington were precisely what Seattle needed to stay competitive despite the horrible showing on offense. Strong safety Kam Chancellor continued to add a physical presence in the secondary, blitzing effectively and making players pay for carrying the ball downfield. He lifted Montario Hardesty off the ground and planted him on his back late in the game as Seattle held the Browns to a field goal attempt. Linebacker David Hawthorne played his best game of the season, making big hits and collecting an interception in the red zone. Defensive end Chris Clemons was disruptive, pressuring Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and roughing him up.
What I didn't like: Whitehurst held the ball too long and made poor decisions at critical times. Tight end Anthony McCoy dropped multiple passes. Ben Obomanu dropped one late in the game when Seattle needed to rally. Bryant lost his cool late in the game, delivering an after-the-play head-butt that led to his ejection and allowed the Browns to run out the clock. This was also a horribly officiated game, I thought. Mike Carey's crew applied differing standards for pass-interference penalties, allowing the Browns to get away with hooking Sidney Rice around the waist, only to call them for such a penalty late in the game. The call negating Washington's return seemed touchy and inconsistent with the way Carey's crew allowed contact in the back during the 49ers-Lions game last week.
Injuries of note: The Seahawks lost cornerback Walter Thurmond to an ankle injury. Running back Marshawn Lynch injured his back during warm-ups and did not play. Lynch's absence affected the game plan and put more pressure on Whitehurst to deliver.
What's next: The Seahawks are home against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8.
His reward, miscast blame, was only fitting for an offensive lineman.
"Illegal formation, offense, No. 76," referee Mike Carey announced to a packed Ford Field and millions watching on television.
All Davis had done was hustle to the line of scrimmage in time for quarterback Alex Smith to spike the ball with 8 seconds left in the half and the 49ers driving. Davis first had to sidestep Carey, who was blocking his path, but by all accounts, he arrived at the line and set himself in time for the snap.
Adding to the confusion, Carey announced in administering the 5-yard penalty that there would be no 10-second clock runoff "because the offense got set before the foul."
A football fan shouldn't require an advanced degree to grasp the rules. A longtime acquaintance of mine, Richard, does own such a degree, as a physics professor, and he wasn't sure what Carey was talking about, either. That made me feel a little better.
"Was that the correct ruling?" Richard asked via Facebook. "If so, why don't NFL teams exploit this rule? It seems only logical that the team would instruct players to be alert and have the two players closest to the ball hustle to take the ball and snap it as soon as the umpire marks it as ready to play."
The other players would freeze momentarily, satisfying the requirement for being "set before the foul" (Carey's words).
"Best of all," Richard added, "using this strategy it is highly likely that defensive teams will be caught offside, so the penalties should offset, effectively giving offensive teams a free stoppage of the clock on every play during a 2-minute drill."
Not so fast.
A few things to know regarding this situation, based on conversations I've had with the NFL office and in consultation with the rulebook:
- Carey was correct in calling illegal formation. Davis was technically the guilty party, but it wasn't his fault. Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. had lined up off the ball on the right side of the formation. Rules require teams to have at least seven players on the line at the snap. Of the seven, the players furthest outside the formation on each side must be eligible receivers. When Ginn lined up off the ball, Davis became the player on the line of scrimmage furthest outside the formation on the right. He was not an eligible receiver, however. Hence, the penalty for illegal formation.
- Carey was correct when he said there should be no 10-second runoff. However, to Richard's question about offenses gaming the system, one little-known aspect of the rules requires offensive players to line up within an imaginary "box" near the line of scrimmage before getting set for the snap. That box exists roughly between the line of scrimmage and where a quarterback would line up in a shotgun snap. If the offensive players do not set themselves in that area, officials are to penalize the offense for a false start, which would carry the 10-second runoff in the final minute of a half. That would prevent offensive players from setting themselves 10 or 15 yards from the line of scrimmage while two teammates hurried to execute a spike.
Davis incurred another penalty for illegal formation in this game when officials determined he had lined up too far back, getting a head start in pass protection on a third-and-5 play. The two penalties gave Davis six for the season, tied for fifth-most in the league. Six of the 11 players with at least six penalties play for NFC West teams.
As Jim Schwartz pointed out Monday, the 49ers never should have taken over possession in Lions territory after Ted Ginn Jr.'s 40-yard return in the final six minutes of a game Detroit was leading, 19-15. That is because 49ers safety Reggie Smith committed a blatant block in the back during the return, first pulling and then shoving the Lions' Maurice Stovall with enough force to expose the receiver's right shoulder pad.
Stovall was within three yards of Ginn and directly in front of him as Ginn gathered himself at the San Francisco 35-yard line, but Smith shoved him out of the play.
Update: One of my officiating contacts watched this play and said Smith was not guilty of a foul in part because one hand was on Stovall's side, Smith merely drove Stovall through the play and Smith was not in a chase position. Tavares Gooden also might have blocked John Wendling in the back.
Questionable penalties happen, of course, and the 49ers had legitimate beefs in this game as well, but nothing quite so ill-timed as this one. NFL.com shows the block at the 2:47 mark of its 49ers-Lions highlight package.
A penalty against the 49ers during the return would have changed game dynamics considerably.
"It was a little disappointing on that when there was a pretty significant block in the back," Schwartz told reporters Monday. "Geez, you talk about one play in the game; that might have been the one right there. It was a significant flip in field position because it's penalties from that point rather than from the end of that [return]."
Had officials administered a 10-yard penalty from the San Francisco 37, the 49ers would have taken over at their own 27. Win probability statistics say the 49ers would have had only a 29.5 percent chance of prevailing in the game had their drive begun that deep in their own territory, according to Alok Pattani of the ESPN analytics team.
Ginn ran out of bounds at the Detroit 40 on the play, but officials moved the ball to the 35 for the start of the drive. I reached out to the NFL for an explanation and will update with a response should I receive one. There was no penalty on the play. This appeared to reflect an error of basic administration.
"You expect officials to get balls spotted in the right spot and have the right down marker up and correct timing, things like that," Schwartz told 97.1-FM in Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press. "Those really aren’t subjective things like the spot of a ball when a runner’s down by contact or something like that. And that was obviously an unfortunate thing that went on in the game. It still doesn’t change the fact that we have fourth-and-goal from the (6) and weren’t able to get them stopped, because we make that play, then things are obviously a lot different."
Win probability stats gave the 49ers a 39.8 percent chance from the Detroit 40 and a 41.6 percent chance from the 35. The 1.8 percent difference is slim, but so was the margin by which officials declared Delanie Walker had moved the ball across the goal line with the winning 6-yard scoring reception before his right knee touched the ground.
Looks like this game will be memorable on many fronts: the 49ers getting to 5-1 for the first time since 2002; Alex Smith delivering the team's first winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of a game since Jeff Garcia, also in 2002; the 49ers playing what coordinator Vic Fangio called the finest defensive performance he had been associated with; Frank Gore matching his career best with a third consecutive 100-yard rushing performance; and, of course, Harbaugh and Schwartz overshadowing it all with their postgame confrontation.
Also: The NFL acknowledged the error in spotting the ball at the 35 instead of the 40. "The officiating crew incorrectly spotted the ball at the Detroit 35 instead of the 40 where Ted Ginn went out of bounds," a league spokesman said.
What it means: The 49ers can beat a good team on the road without their best stuff. This makes them a legitimate contender in the NFC. They remain a work in progress, too. Some of the coaching decisions seemed questionable, a departure from form for Jim Harbaugh through the first five games. Alex Smith's inaccuracy resurfaced when he threw too high for Michael Crabtree more than once. But with the game on the line, Smith delivered a 6-yard scoring pass to Delanie Walker for the go-ahead points in the final two minutes. The shortcomings simply show there's room for improvement, even though the 49ers are 5-1. That's a great thing for them heading into the bye week. Count this as yet another signature victory for the 49ers under Harbaugh.
What I liked: Frank Gore found ample running room and came through with big plays when the 49ers needed them. Receiver Michael Crabtree also stepped up for the 49ers, including when he provided a 27-yard reception on third down after the teams had combined to convert only twice on 17 third-down opportunities to that point in the game. Rookie Aldon Smith continued to improve, making a huge play when he tackled Matthew Stafford in the end zone for a safety. He collected another sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Patrick Willis, although beaten for a touchdown despite very tight coverage, blanketed the Lions' tight ends and helped shut down underneath plays repeatedly. Overall, the 49ers hung tough and went back to the running game late when they needed to run time off the clock with a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown. And Alex Smith's ability to throw the winning touchdown pass in a clutch situation represented a giant step forward. David Akers' strong kicking is easy to take for granted, but without his 55-yard field goal before halftime and 37-yarder late, it's a different game.
What I didn't like: The 49ers played to the Lions' strengths early. They called a pass play to open the game, inviting trouble against a strong pass-rushing team in a noisy environment. It was no surprise, under the circumstances, when the Lions' Kyle Vanden Bosch came through with a sack and forced fumble -- exactly the type of start the 49ers needed to avoid in this environment. The crowd was immediately in the game, and the 49ers compounded the situation with false starts. Early in the second half, the 49ers invited trouble again by going with an empty backfield from their own 20-yard line, tipping off the quick pass that followed (for a 3-yard loss). The 49ers ran the ball well when they gave it to Gore, but they did not give the ball to him frequently enough. At one point in the third quarter, Gore had six carries for 121 yards. He needed more carries against a Lions defense that wasn't very strong against the run. Penalty problems persisted and were a factor in creating the unfavorable down and distance precipitating Alex Smith's interception.
Critical calls: Multiple high-impact rulings from Mike Carey's officiating crew spiced up this game. I didn't see justification for the chop-block call or horse-collar call against the Lions or the 19-yard interference penalty against 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers. Officials initially disallowed Nate Burleson's touchdown grab for the Lions in a ruling reminiscent of the famous Calvin Johnson play against Chicago last season. Upon review, however, Carey determined that Burleson had had possession of the ball long enough before the field goal net resting along the end line dislodged the ball from the receiver's hand. Then, with the game on the line and the 49ers having scored the go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-6, Carey took another look to see whether Walker's knee touched down before the ball crossed the goal line. Carey determined the ruling on the field would stand. Walker's left leg obscured his right knee from view on one of the critical angles.
Calvin Johnson watch: The 49ers generally did a good job against the NFL's leader in touchdown receptions until Johnson broke free for a 41-yard reception in the fourth quarter. Johnson beat Rogers off the line and gained additional yardage after free safety Dashon Goldson missed him. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman was the one to catch Johnson. Johnson finished with six receptions for 102 yards, but he went without a touchdown for the first time all season. That counts as a victory for the 49ers no matter how many yards Johnson gained.
Injuries of note: Right guard Adam Snyder left the game with a stinger. Chilo Rachal replaced him.
What's next: The 49ers have a bye.
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.
What it means: The Seahawks weren't good enough to go toe-to-toe against Drew Brees in the Superdome, but they looked like the best team in the NFC West on this day. Watching quarterback Matt Hasselbeck over the past two games should give the Seahawks hope heading into their final six games. The team remains atop the NFC West with a 5-5 record heading into consecutive home games. The second-place Rams (4-6) play their next three on the road.
What I liked: The Seahawks forced their offensive tempo upon the Saints and made big, timely plays in the passing game. Hasselbeck commanded the offense effectively in a hostile environment, silencing the Superdome crowd with accurate passes. He looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback while completing 32 of 44 passes for 366 yards, one touchdown and a 104.9 rating. His protection was outstanding (no sacks). Receivers Mike Williams, Brandon Stokley and Ben Obomanu exploited the Saints' secondary. Williams caught six passes for 109 yards before leaving the game with a toe injury.
What I didn't like: Seattle's tackling was too often horrendous. Defensive players were bouncing off Saints running back Chris Ivory and others, including receiver Marques Colston. On offense, running back Marshawn Lynch lost two fumbles in a game for the first time in his career. Those turnovers prevented Seattle from keeping this game closer. The Seahawks replaced him late in the game.
You make the call: Questionable officiating affected the game negatively. The Saints scored a touchdown late in the first half after referee Mike Carey's crew turned a third-and-3 incomplete pass into first down near midfield with a roughing penalty against Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock. The hit appeared clean. The play was pivotal and forced Seattle to play from behind.
Injuries of note: Seattle lost Williams, its leading receiver, and Marcus Trufant, its top cornerback, to injuries. Trufant suffered what the team described as a head injury. Left guard Chester Pitts was limping throughout the game.
What's next: The Seahawks return home to face Kansas City and Carolina over the next two weeks.
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.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com looks at the team's red zone problems on offense.
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers got a wakeup call in Week 1. Singletary: "You're a young football team, you win four preseason games, and you start to feel pretty good about yourself. Maybe you begin to read your press clippings and think, 'Hey, we've got the division won.' Obviously, we don't."
Also from White: Michael Crabtree had a rough day.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Singletary thanks Seattle for blowing out the 49ers. If only it were that simple.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers became rattled quickly against Seattle. Barrows: "All offseason, coaches and players raved about how confident Smith had become after a second offseason in coordinator Jimmy Raye's offense. This was the season that Smith, outfitted with an arsenal of offensive weapons, would assert himself as a leader and the 49ers would win the NFC West. But Smith unraveled with the rest of the team. He missed open receivers, threw the ball out of bounds and was otherwise ineffective during a second half in which the Seahawks made the 49ers, the prohibitive favorites to win the division, look like a laughingstock."
Also from Barrows: Communication issues hurt the 49ers.
More from Barrows: a look at play-calling problems.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Singletary called out Smith, Crabtree and the offensive line.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat quotes 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes as saying he never saw such a lopsided loss coming.
Also from Branch: Ted Ginn Jr., Manny Lawson and Chilo Rachal suffered injuries.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's pass for Moran Norris summed up the 49ers' day on offense. Smith lofted a ball for Norris to run under. Norris stopped and turned around.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary faces a big test after this blowout defeat.
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' performance renews questions about Smith. It's particularly damning when an offense converts only once in 15 chances on third down. The 49ers have converted twice in 28 third-down tries over their last two games at Qwest Field.
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.
CHICAGO -- The Cardinals' defense naturally wants to punish Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in their Week 9 matchup at Soldier Field.
A little advice: Make sure those quarterback hits fall within the rules.
Ed Hochuli, the referee assigned to work this game, leads all 17 referees in penalties for roughing the passer this season. He also leads all referees in roughing calls since 2002. The chart breaks down the numbers for all officials who have worked as referees continuously since then.
Hochuli leads the NFL with six roughing calls this season.
The Cardinals' Chike Okeafor led all NFL players in roughing penalties with eight from 2001 through the 2008 season. Safety Adrian Wilson and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett combined for five. Arizona has committed only one such penalty this season, by linebacker Karlos Dansby in Week 7.
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.