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Thursday, November 21, 2013
Inside Slant: Referee trends emerging

By Kevin Seifert

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:
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.