The number required a second look. This was wild, even for referee Peter Morelli. But upon further review, it was accurate: Morelli and his crew called two -- two -- penalties last Sunday in the New England Patriots' 34-31 victory over the Houston Texans.
Morelli's crew has ranked at or near the bottom this season of our occasional Referee Reports, a tally based on penalty calls per game via the ESPN Stats & Information database. But even this number was off the charts and a reminder of how significantly NFL games can be impacted by the crew that officiates them.
We should point out that the Patriots (50) are among the NFL's least-penalized teams. The Texans (75) rank No. 17. And it bears repeating that penalty totals are in no way an accurate measurement of officiating quality. They do, however, provide insight into the type of game a team might experience when it learns its referee assignment.
Morelli's crew has called below the NFL average of 14.2 penalties in all but one of its 11 games, and Sunday's output brought its average to an NFL-low 10.4 penalties per game. As you can see in the chart above, that's a significant difference from the kind of game you're likely to see if Walt Anderson, John Parry, Jerome Boger or Scott Green officiate your game.
Below are a few other observations to be made after 13 weeks this season, which seem especially relevant in light of complaints from Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. In an interview with Sirius/XM NFL radio, Arians said officiating is far too inconsistent and added that he presents his players with a report on how their next crew is likely to call its game.
If you're a defensive back and want to gain an advantage via some creative holding during the route, there is a significant disparity of calls for that penalty. Those who have called the fewest defensive holding penalties: Ron Winter (two), Morelli (four), Mike Carey (five), Jeff Triplette (six) and Bill Leavy/Scott Green (seven). Watch out for Parry (20), Clete Blakeman (17) and Bill Vinovich (14).
Remember when Blakeman's crew picked up a flag it originally threw for defensive pass interference (DPI) on the final play of the Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers? Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. In 11 games this season, Blakeman's crew has called a league-low seven DPI penalties. Other lenient crews include those headed by Leavy (eight), Vinovich, Winter, Morelli, Cheffers and Anderson. The latter five have called nine apiece. Watch out for Coleman, who has called 24 -- five more than the next highest official. Worth noting: Coleman has called an NFL-high 36 combined penalties for pass interference or defensive holding.
You wouldn't think it, but there is a significant disparity in false start penalties. Tony Corrente's crew has called 13 such penalties, Morelli has 14 and McAulay has 17. On the other end of the scale are Coleman, Boger, Ed Hochuli and Anderson, all of whom have called between 28-30. A flinch is not always a flinch.
If you're a defense that likes to hit beyond the whistle, you might want to tone it down for Triplette, Hochuli and Cheffers. They have called between 26-31 penalties this season for roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct. On the other hand, McAulay has called a total of 10 and Winter has called 12.