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Thursday, December 5, 2013
Inside Slant: The lenient Peter Morelli

By Kevin Seifert

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.