Thursday, January 30, 2014
Inside Slant: Super Bowl referee report
By Kevin Seifert
Terry McAulay had among the lightest of touches for referees during the regular season. His crew called fewer penalties than all but three of the NFL's 17 crews. So what does that tell us about Super Bowl XLVIII, for which McAulay will serve as the referee?
Probably not as much as we would like. Referees head up "all-star" crews during the postseason, and the alternate makeup can make projections less reliable. Here is what we do know: McAulay's regular-season crew averaged 12.7 penalties per game during the regular season. His first playoff crew had 14 penalties accepted in the divisional round game between the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks, and in two previous Super Bowls (XXXIX and XLIII), his crew had 10 and 18 penalties accepted, respectively.
It's worth noting that Sunday's game will feature the two most-penalized teams in the NFL during the regular season, the Seahawks and Denver Broncos. So rather than focusing on McAulay's raw penalty totals, let's look at the breakdown of how his regular-season crew operated this season. Referees set the tone for any crew, and their points of emphasis during pregame discussions can carry through, no matter who makes up the rest of the group.
The chart reveals a few interesting nuggets. Most notably: McAulay's crew was especially active in the passing game. Despite its low total of penalties overall, it called the fourth most "coverage penalties" -- a combination of defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference. If that trend continues Sunday, defenders will have to be cognizant about the level of physicality they use against receivers.
Offensive linemen better mind themselves, as well. McAulay's crew called the league's fifth most holding penalties during the regular season.
So how did McAulay's overall penalty total rank so low when his crew was so active on holding and coverage calls? For reasons I'm not sure we can explain, his crew called the fewest pre-snap movement penalties on the defense (offside, encroachment or neutral zone infractions) and the third fewest false starts on the offense.
You would think there isn't much wiggle room in calling movement penalties before the snap. It either happens or it doesn't, and perhaps the teams McAulay's crew dealt with were less prone to such penalties. If you're a pass-rusher, however, you might look at those numbers and experiment with a few early anticipatory rushes against the snap count. Just to see what happens, of course.