Inside Slant: Referee trends emerging

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
10:45
AM ET
When we last glanced at the NFL referee report, John Parry's crew was leading the league in total penalties called (accepted and declined) as well as penalties per game. Parry's rate has fallen a bit since then, but through 11 weeks of the season, his crew is still the most flag-happy in the league.

As the chart shows, the range between crews is significant. If you draw Parry, you're getting a group that is calling nearly 18 penalties per game. On the other hand, you could get a crew that is averaging nearly 40 percent less. Peter Morelli's crew has called an average of 11.2 penalties per game, while Bill Vinovich's crew is at 11.6.

It's unrealistic to expect every crew to call exactly the same number of penalties, and a crew that calls fewer penalties isn't necessary better or more effective than one that calls more. As in other sports, every crew has a unique approach within the confines of the larger set of rules. Most NFL teams track these numbers and plan accordingly when they know their crew assignment.

Our ESPN Stats & Information database allows us to sort these numbers in individual penalty categories, another exercise many teams conduct. Who is lenient on pass interference? Who is a stickler for holding? Trends emerge over time, and below are a few observations we can make after 11 weeks:
  • If you have aggressive defensive backs who like to be physical, you should celebrate if get the crew of Clete Blakeman, Bill Leavy or Walt Anderson. Blakeman's crew has called four defensive pass interference calls in nine games. Leavy's has five in 10 games and Anderson has seven in nine games. On the other hand, watch out for Walt Coleman and Tony Corrente, whose crews have called 17 such penalties in nine and 10 games, respectively.
  • Big, physical wide receivers better tone it down when Scott Green's crew comes to town. Green has called 10 offensive pass interference penalties in nine games, about twice the rate of the next highest crew (Jerome Boger, six in 10 games). Green's crew is responsible for almost 20 percent of the total number of OPI calls this season. It has called 13 penalties for defensive pass interference.
  • Why is Parry's total so high? We can start with offensive holding, which accounts for 39 of the penalties his crew has called. Boger (34) and Corrente (30) are also pretty strict in this area. On the other hand, Morelli's crew has called 16 offensive holding penalties, while Leavy and Mike Carey have 17.
  • Want to roughhouse? You might want to avoid Jeff Triplette and Ed Hochuli. Their crews have called the most combined penalties for roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct. Triplette's has 28 and Hochuli has 23. On the other hand, Terry McAulay has called a combination of seven such penalties. Ron Winter has 10, Corrente has 11 and Mike Carey has 12.

Of course, the nature of the teams in game that each crew works partially dictates the penalty outcome. Some teams are sloppier than others. But over time, I think, trends within crews should be viewed with significance and considered at the same time as team penalty totals. It takes two to tango, after all.

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