NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

Inside Slant: When 12 men isn't 12 men

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
10:45
AM ET
We have referee assignments for this weekend's games, courtesy former NFL officiating supervisor Mike Pereira: Tony Corrente will handle the AFC Championship Game and Gene Steratore has the NFC Championship Game.

I'll pass along a few nuggets on each referee in a bit, but first let's review a much-discussed episode from last weekend's divisional playoff game at Bank of America Stadium -- one that illustrated once again how complicated and nuanced the NFL rule book is.

Near the goal line in the second quarter, the 49ers had 12 men in their offensive huddle. We all know it's usually a penalty, but count me among those who weren't aware of the stipulation contained in Rule 5, Section 2, Article 1 of the rule book: "There can never be more than 11 players in the offensive huddle while the play clock is running." (Emphasis mine.)

As NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino demonstrated on the NFL Network, the play clock hadn't started when the 49ers had 12 men in the huddle. When it did, 49ers tight end Vance McDonald immediately stepped out. I don't know if that was by design or chance, but as Blandino said: "Mechanically that was handled properly and they had 11 men when the play clock had started."

I've had plenty to say about the difficulty NFL officials had in keeping track of the rule book this season, and it's nice to see a few people in authority coming around on the idea. Most recently, New England Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said in a radio interview: "I think at this point the rules have gotten so complicated, and these players are so fast and so strong, that no matter how good you are as an official it’s impossible to be perfect. So I think we need to continue to work on ways to take some of these elements of chance out of it. The officials are doing their best."

Now, on to this weekend's referees.

As the chart shows, Steratore's regular-season crew finished in the middle of the NFL pack for total penalties called. Corrente was in the bottom third. Below is where they finished in a few key penalty categories.

Coverage penalties
2013 range: High was Walt Coleman (52), low was Peter Morelli (19)
Corrente: 41
Steratore: 29

Offensive holding
2013 range: High was Carlton Cheffers (55), low was Morelli (23)
Corrente: 42
Steratore: 36

Unsportsmanlike conduct
2013 range: Triplette was high (48), Ron Winter was low (18)
Corrente: 19
Steratore: 25

As a reminder, "coverage penalties" are either defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding. Corrente's crew called the second-most in the NFL during the regular season. On the other hand, his crew was tied for the second-fewest combination of personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness penalties. (Remember, playoff crews are comprised of regular-season "all-stars" and thus some of these trends might not be as relevant.)

Typically the NFL gives the Super Bowl referee the week off during the championship games, which means neither Corrente nor Steratore will have Super Bowl XLVIII. More likely, the league will choose from the pool of four referees who handled the divisional round: Cheffers, Peter Morelli, Clete Blakeman and Terry McAulay.

UPDATE: The NFL revealed Wednesday that McAulay is the choice.

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