NFL Nation: penalties

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, frustrated over the absence of a late pass-interference call in Super Bowl XLVII, might not embrace a stat ESPN's John Clayton dug up for his latest "Inside the Huddle" video (above). I can help on that front, however.

"In the past 110 playoff games," Clayton reports, "there have been only one defensive holding call and two pass interference calls in the final two minutes."

Good note, and as Clayton reveals, one of those defensive pass interference calls went against the 49ers' Tarell Brown in the divisional playoffs this season.

What about the other one? Glad I asked.

The other pass-interference penalty during the final two minutes of a playoff game helped the Seattle Seahawks force overtime against Green Bay in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field following the 2003 season. Referee Bernie Kukar's crew flagged Packers linebacker Nick Barnett for holding Seahawks tight end Itula Mili on a third-and-goal play from the 6-yard line. Fifty-nine seconds remained in regulation. The pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Mili had fallen incomplete. The Packers led, 27-20.

The penalty against Barnett gave the Seahawks first-and-goal from the 1. Shaun Alexander scored on the next play and the game went to overtime, where the Packers won on Al Harris' interception return.

So, there is at least some precedent for officials to call pass interference in a goal-to-go situation during the final minutes of a tightly-contested playoff game.

"I would say it exactly like Bill Polian," Harbaugh told 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. "A penalty is a penalty no matter when it occurs in a game. It could occur in the first play of the game. It could occur on the last play of the game, or any play in between. That's the rules of football."
A quick layover in Denver allowed me to rejoin the Super Bowl aftermath conversation via Twitter.

Officiating remained prominent on San Francisco 49ers fans' minds. That's fine by me. Even if you think the Baltimore Ravens played better and deserved to win Super Bowl XLVII -- that is my view, even though expressing it caused one guy to click Twitter's unfollow button in frustration -- there is no rule against discussing how officiating affected the game.

We'll see for years to come clips of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pleading for a holding call against Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith on the 49ers' last-ditch attempt to win the game on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. It's a permanent part of the conversation.

Win probability calculations showed the 49ers having a 32 percent chance of winning the game before that fourth-and-5 play. The incomplete pass dropped the 49ers' chances to 6 percent. The change of 26 percentage point was the largest for any play in the game, according to Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information.

A penalty against the Ravens would have given the 49ers first-and-goal from the 1-yard line with one timeout remaining. Their win probability would have jumped to 55 percent in that situation. The difference between 6 percent with no call and 55 percent with a call made the officials' ruling worth about one-half of a victory.

Some have also asked about the play when the Ravens blatantly held multiple 49ers players in the end zone, allowing Baltimore punter Sam Koch to run time off the clock before taking a safety. Officials clearly should have flagged the Ravens for holding on the play. While doing so would not have changed the result of the play, officials are supposed to call penalties when they see them regardless of circumstances to promote the integrity of the game. It's not their job to determine whether a penalty would really matter.

Questions about calls that mattered gain more traction amid evidence officials looked the other way in other situations.

One more thing: Rules would have allowed the 49ers to call for a fair catch on the Ravens' free kick following the safety. Doing so would have compelled San Francisco to attempt a field goal on the next play -- in this case, from the San Francisco 19-yard line.

The Arizona Cardinals tried this unsuccessfully during a 2008 season against the New York Giants. In such a case, the kicking team can execute a drop kick or a use a holder, but all kicks must be executed without a tee. Also, there would be no snap on these plays. Defensive players would have to stand 10 yards off the ball while the kicking team attempted the try.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jerome Boger is the referee assigned to the San Francisco 49ers' divisional-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.

Boger is working with an all-star crew, customary for the playoffs. Regular-season crew tendencies might not apply as much.

With an assist from ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing 49ers games Boger has worked over the years.

Boger worked the 49ers' memorable 27-24 defeat at Minnesota in 2009. Brett Favre's late touchdown pass, not the officiating, made that one memorable.

Last season, Boger's crew negated a Michael Crabtree touchdown at Cincinnati, ruling that the receiver had stepped out of bounds. The call was questionable, in my view, and former officiating director Mike Pereira agreed. Also in that game, Boger called a false-start penalty against "the entire offensive line" of the 49ers.

More recently, Boger was the ref for the 49ers' 45-3 victory against Buffalo.

Officials flagged the Seattle Seahawks for illegal contact an NFL-high eight times in 2011.

That comes as no surprise to those familiar with the aggressive, controversial tactics Seattle's big cornerbacks employ.

Here is the surprise: Brandon Browner's penalty for illegal contact during the Seahawks' 24-14 playoff victory Sunday was just the second of its kind against Seattle all season.

Officials also flagged cornerback Jeremy Lane for illegal contact in Week 17.

The Seahawks' divisional-round playoff opponent, Atlanta, incurred a league-low 68 penalties this season, counting declined ones. But even the Falcons suffered more penalties for illegal contact (two) than the Seahawks incurred during the regular season.

Seattle also reduced its penalties for defensive pass interference from last season. Those dropped from 10 last season to five this season.

The chart ranks NFC West teams and their divisional-round opponents by fewest accepted and declined penalties during the regular season.

Jaguars-Dolphins halftime notes

December, 16, 2012
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins lead the Jacksonville Jaguars, 10-3, at halftime.

Here are several thoughts at intermission:
  • Chad Henne's return to Miami has been a mixed bag. He started fast by putting together a 10-play scoring drive to start the game. Jacksonville settled for a field goal. Since then, Henne has been cold. He's missed a few makeable throws and is bothered by Miami’s pressure. Henne is 9-of-14 for 96 yards in the first half.
  • Miami tailback Reggie Bush is struggling to find running lanes. Jacksonville is making a strong effort to stop Miami’s ground attack and held Bush to just 25 yards on 8 carries. The Dolphins are thin at receiver without Davone Bess. That makes their passing game easier to defend.
  • Miami’s secondary suffered a couple of injuries. First, starting safety Chris Clemons suffered a neck stinger in the first quarter and sat out the remainder of the first half. Then, cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered a knee injury in the second quarter. Both players are questionable to return.
  • Overall, the Dolphins have played down to their competition. Miami looks sloppy and committed a bad turnover on quarterback Ryan Tannehill's fumble, although it didn't cost the team any points. The Dolphins are clearly a better team. They have a chance to put the game away early in the second half and not let Jacksonville hang around to try to pull off the upset.

Harbaugh vs. Gilbride: NFC West addendum

October, 12, 2012
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A few more thoughts on San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh going nuclear on New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for suggesting Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding opposing offensive linemen:
  • Smith's responses to the uproar are entertaining on their own. They're funnier if you're familiar with his aw-shucks demeanor. He says offensive linemen hold because "they're born that way" and jokes that getting away with murder beats "getting caught with it." He calls them a colorful name, too.
  • Dan Graziano of our NFC East blog points to a Football Outsiders piece from before the season. That piece claims Smith not only gets away with holding, but that the 49ers' coaches instruct their defensive linemen to play that way. Players work to get every edge they can get. Offensive linemen hold regularly and get away with it. Defensive backs try to shove around receivers. No one calls them cheaters for it. Smith is a dominant player, period. Gilbride's comments should not diminish that.
  • Graziano also suggests Harbaugh's response -- describing Gilbride's remarks with a list of colorful adjectives -- might attune officials to calls they might not otherwise have on their radar. It might put public pressure on them to watch for Smith, but coaches routinely ask officials in private to watch certain players for certain infractions. You can bet the Giants have complained about Smith directly to officials.
  • Officials rarely call holding against defensive linemen. Since 2009, they've made 58 holding calls on first, second and third downs against players listed as defensive linemen (my way of excluding most special-teams plays). That includes two against Smith. Players sometimes change between defensive end and outside linebacker depending on scheme, so the numbers could change based on that factor. But it's still a call officials rarely make. As the Football Outsiders piece notes, it's a tough one for officials to see.

That's it for now. I'm heading out for a Friday-night dinner while wondering how many times per game offensive linemen get away with holding Smith. It's a lot more times than his defensive coordinator has complained about publicly, for sure.
Count Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald among the many NFL players hoping regular officials return for games in Week 4.

Fitzgerald, speaking on ESPN in the video above, said replacement officials have applied inconsistent standards for penalty enforcement.

With that in mind, I've put together a chart comparing penalty counts for defensive backs through Week 3 against three-week averages for the previous four seasons. Eight calls for illegal contact in Week 3 brought season-to-date averages closer in line with recent norms. Replacement officials have called far more penalties for defensive pass interference and defensive holding. Penalty info comes from Hank Garguilo of ESPN Stats & Information. It includes declined penalties.

Receivers have been called for nine offensive pass-interference penalties. That is the same number as there were through three weeks last season. WR penalties for false starts are up, but those for illegal shifts are down to zero from four last season and six the year before.

Regular officials are reportedly close to reaching new contracts. It's unclear how quickly they would resume working once a new deal is struck.

Steven Jackson had an appropriate response to Robert Griffin III's accusations of dirty play from Jackson's St. Louis Rams: "It's not the Big 12."

Griffin
Griffin, the Washington Redskins' rookie sensation, isn't the first quarterback to challenge defenses with his running while seeking the protections afforded pocket passers. Michael Vick lodged complaints last season.

Griffin went further, specifically accusing the Rams of taking cheap shots at him during St. Louis' 31-28 victory Sunday. I've gone through the all-22 video with a careful eye. The Rams did take a couple unnecessary hits, but I wouldn't call their tactics egregious by NFL standards -- or even Big 12 standards.

We'll hopefully find out what the NFL thinks when the league levies fines later in the week.

Among the things I noticed in relation to Griffin:
  • First quarter, 3:03 mark: Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar takes down Griffin and jabs him around the shoulder area with an elbow. The blow didn't appear to do any damage.
  • First quarter, 2:00: Griffin runs a bootleg toward the left sideline. Safety Quintin Mikell tries to deliver a hard hit while Griffin is leaving the field. Griffin was a runner on this play. Mikell didn't seem out of line.
  • Third quarter, 9:00: Griffin pitches the ball on an option play. Defensive end Robert Quinn shoves Griffin unnecessarily, but no harm is done.
  • Fourth quarter, 8:29: Griffin throws to the right, then takes a hit from defensive end William Hayes. There was nothing vicious about this hit. Hayes did not appear to have bad intentions. He did run over Griffin after the ball was gone.
  • Fourth quarter, 8:00: Griffin scrambles and slides. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan throws himself into Griffin, striking the quarterback in the helmet with his hip.
  • Fourth quarter, 4:40: Griffin gets rid of the ball while defensive tackle Kendall Langford rushes him. Griffin appears to be falling when Langford shoves him down. Necessary? No. Dirty? Don't think so.
  • Fourth quarter, 2:00: Griffin rolls right and scrambles, taking a hit from Craig Dahl just just before running out of bounds. Legal play.

Fine information usually becomes available on Fridays.

By the way, the Rams and Redskins each have four penalties for unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and those labeled more broadly as personal fouls. Only Baltimore (six) and Philadelphia (five) have more through two games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Interference calls up, thanks to NFC West

September, 11, 2012
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Penalty flags are going to fly in the secondary when the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals get together.

Both teams have physical corners unafraid to push boundaries in coverage. Both teams incurred penalties for interference Sunday.



They weren't the only ones in Week 1. It's looking like the NFL's replacement officials might be on the lookout for defenders trying to gain an edge while regular officials are away.

Officials flagged NFL teams 29 time for defensive pass interference in Week 1, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's up from 25 over the previous two opening weeks combined.

Seven of the 29 calls came against Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco, however, so the calls weren't necessarily distributed evenly across the various officiating crews.

The total included two such penalties against Arizona's Patrick Peterson, two against Seattle's Richard Sherman and one against the Cardinals' William Gay. The Seahawks' Brandon Browner, who led the NFL in penalties with 19 last season, drew a flag only for holding on special teams.

Defenders will presumably adjust if officials continue calling defensive pass interference so frequently.

There were four such calls during San Francisco's game against Green Bay, including one against cornerback Carlos Rogers and another against safety Dashon Goldson. There were no penalties for defensive pass interference in St. Louis' game at Detroit.
A confusing judgment call favoring the New York Giants enabled their comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4.

Was Giants receiver Victor Cruz really down when he lost the football late in the game? A fumble in that situation likely would have killed the Giants' chances for a comeback.

Who knows, an Arizona victory might have changed the course of NFL history given that the Giants later sneaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, then won a Super Bowl title.

Would they have been a postseason team at all without that victory? Tough to tell, and irrelevant now.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIREVictor Cruz was ruled down on this fourth-quarter play, nullifying a recovered fumble by Arizona in a game it lost 31-27.
But the issue relating to the Cruz play lives on. The NFL apparently had that situation and a few others from NFC West teams' games in mind when identifying officiating points of interest for the 2012 season.

Those points, distributed during the recently concluded NFL owners meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla, covered blows to the head, horse-collar tackles, sportsmanship/taunting, pre-snap movement, player alignment, runners declaring themselves down and deceptive substitutions.

I'll single out a few of them in relation to memorable plays from games involving NFC West teams.

Runners declaring themselves down

Memorable plays: Victor Cruz's non-fumble at Arizona after referee Jerome Boger determined Cruz had given himself up, ending the play. Later in the season, the Seattle Seahawks' Adrian Moten and Michael Robinson sandwiched San Francisco 49ers returner Kyle Williams after Williams went to the ground untouched, then popped up. The league later fined Moten for a late hit. Referee Ron Winter penalized Robinson for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but the absence of an accompanying fine indicated the NFL did not fault Robinson for his behavior on the play.

The issue: Were Cruz and Williams down? When is a runner down, anyway? And if they're obviously down, shouldn't officials blow their whistles?

Point of emphasis, from the NFL: "Rule 7, Section 1, Article 1 states that the ball is dead and the down ended if, among other items, a runner 'declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and making no effort to advance.' This sometimes leads to confusion when a runner goes to the ground and is slow to rise to his feet. Has he 'declared himself down,' in which case the covering official should blow his whistle and further defensive contact is prohibited? Or is he merely slow to get to his feet, for whatever reason, in which case a defender needs to touch him to end the down?

"The Committee does not believe that there should be any change in the rule itself, but believes that education of players, coaches, and officials should eliminate any ambiguity. The proper application of the rule, that a runner who goes to the ground untouched will be considered to have declared himself down if he does not make an immediate attempt to advance, will be emphasized to officials prior to the 2012 season."

Pre-snap movement

Memorable plays: Referee Gene Steratore and crew flagged 49ers tight end Justin Peelle for a false start on a fourth-and-1 play against the Washington Redskins. Coach Jim Harbaugh disputed the call. The 49ers periodically used sudden movement by their tight ends, ostensibly to reset the formation. Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton called the tactics "cute" (see final note here) after the 49ers drew the New York Giants offside.

The issue: Were the 49ers simulating a snap or making a legitimate adjustment to their formations?

Point of emphasis, from the NFL: The Committee reviewed video of pre-snap movement by offensive players and agreed that special emphasis should be devoted to acts that are clearly in violation of the existing rule for false starts. Prior to a snap, any quick, abrupt movement by an offensive player, or several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of a play, is a foul.

"These acts include (a) a quarterback in shotgun formation thrusting his hands forward in an exaggerated manner when there is not a simultaneous snap, (b) abrupt movement of the ball by the center, (c) abrupt movement of the center’s head or other body part, and (d) a quick abrupt shift by two or more players in unison. Non-abrupt movement that is part of normal pre-snap action will not be prohibited, including pointing and signaling among offensive players."

Deceptive substitutions

Memorable plays: The 49ers tricked the St. Louis Rams with a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on a fake field-goal attempt. Crabtree went toward the sideline as if leaving the field, but he stayed on the field and was uncovered near the sideline. The play was deemed legal.

The issue: Undetermined. I do not know whether the following point of emphasis applies to how the 49ers used Crabtree in this example. This one requires more investigation. I'll include the point of emphasis here, then follow up when I have more information. League officials are returning from the meetings Wednesday.

Point of emphasis, from the NFL: "The Committee addressed the concern that some teams are abusing established substitution rules in a deliberate attempt to confuse opponents. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(k) of the Playing Rules clearly states that 'using entering substitutes, legally returning players, substitutes on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents' is unsportsmanlike conduct. The Committee reminds clubs that this practice has no part in our game, and officials will be instructed to closely watch for violations of the rule.

"The Committee also reviewed the procedures for an offensive player who comes into the game wearing a number that does not qualify him for the position he takes. These players must report to the Referee, prior to entering the huddle. The Referee and Umpire will then report the same to the defensive team. This rule prevails whether a player is already in the game or is an entering substitute and whether it is a play from scrimmage, an attempted field goal, or a try after a touchdown. If a player fails to report his change in eligibility, it will result in a five-yard penalty for illegal substitution."
INDIANAPOLIS — Watch out for offensive holding penalties in Super Bowl XLVI.

Officials have called only eight penalties for holding on offensive plays during the postseason, six of them against the NFC champion New York Giants. Three of the six were against Chris Snee, with two against David Baas and one against David Diehl.

John Parry is the referee for Super Bowl XLVI. His crew ranked third in most penalties for offensive holding during the regular season.

I've put together a chart from ESPN Stats & Information showing where Parry's crew ranked in various penalties during the 2011 season. Parry is working with an all-star crew, not his usual one. That could affect tendencies.

Parry's low ranking for unnecessary roughness appears offset, at least somewhat, by a higher number of calls for generic personal fouls.

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Notes and observations from San Francisco 49ers headquarters one day after the season ended with a 20-17 overtime defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game:

  • That was Jim Harbaugh, not the 16th century privateer Sir Andrew Barton, assessing the state of his team this way: "Hurt but not slain, I'll lay down and bleed a while, then rise and fight again." Battle language appeals to Harbaugh. He also said the "football gods" had a different ending in mind than the one his 49ers envisioned.
  • [+] EnlargeVernon Davis
    Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh disagreed with the penalty called following Vernon Davis' touchdown celebration in the first quarter of Sunday's game.
  • Looks like Harbaugh and the Ed Hochuli-led all-star officiating crew for the NFC title game have some issues relating to the fumble that was not. Officials ruled that the New York Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw was down -- specifically, that his forward progress had stopped -- before NaVorro Bowman forced out the ball. Harbaugh: "In my opinion, that was a fumble. The play was continuing. There was still struggling by Bradshaw."
  • Harbaugh, who spent the 2002-03 seasons with Oakland, said the forward-progress ruling was "analogous to the tuck rule" against the Raiders in the AFC title game. Harbaugh also referenced a forward-progress ruling from the Giants-49ers game in Week 10. The 49ers thought they forced a Victor Cruz fumble, but Tony Corrente and crew ruled forward progress was stopped. Harbaugh tried to challenge that call, but the play was not open to review.
  • Harbaugh also took issue with the penalty against tight end Vernon Davis for using a prop during a touchdown celebration. Davis climbed a camera stand to celebrate his 73-yard touchdown. Harbaugh, perhaps unaware or overlooking special allowances the NFL makes for the Lambeau Leap, compared Davis' act with the one that is a signature celebration in Green Bay. He also said Davis was using a structure, not a prop. The rulebook makes only one mention of a prop, under rules for taunting: "Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop."
  • Strong safety Donte Whitner said the Giants' receivers smartly got to the ground before contact to avoid risking turnovers in sloppy conditions. The approach prevented the 49ers' hard-hitting secondary from putting a physical stamp on the game, as it had against New Orleans a week earlier. Two of the bigger collisions involved 49ers safety Dashon Goldson colliding with teammates as they tried to pick off passes. One of those collisions knocked out cornerback Tarell Brown for the remainder of the game. Brown said he did not suffer a concussion, but team doctors prohibited him from returning to the game as a precaution.
  • The shoulder injury Kyle Williams suffered before his late fumble did not include a separation, according to Harbaugh. But Williams was very sore Monday.
  • Alex Smith joined Harbaugh in putting off talk regarding a new contract. There should be very little drama associated with re-signing Smith. Both parties want to get a deal done. Harbaugh seemed bored by obligatory questions about a new contract for his quarterback.
  • Frank Gore said he did not know if he would play in the Pro Bowl. He planned to meet with team doctors first. Gore said he felt good Sunday, brushing off suggestions that he was playing hurt late in the season. Harbaugh said one 49ers player told him about plans to skip the Pro Bowl. Harbaugh would not say which one it was. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch would be next in line as an alternate if Gore withdrew from the game.
  • The 49ers punted three times on possessions after deciding not to go for it on fourth-and-1. I was thinking of the one in overtime when I asked Harbaugh about his thought process. He answered in reference to the two previous ones, noting that pinning a team inside its own 10 is generally worth about three points. The 49ers wound up getting no points from any of their fourth-and-1 punts (one came after a delay penalty set up fourth-and-6). The Giants were the next team to score after all three of them. That doesn't necessarily mean San Francisco made poor decisions. They can be interesting to debate.
  • Two Pro Bowl players in the secondary area are heading toward free agency. Cornerback Carlos Rogers said he'll make re-signing with the 49ers his top priority over seeking paydays elsewhere. Rogers: "From the owner to the general manager to everyone in this organization, I like everything about this organization, all the players, the trainers. This ain't about me coming and saying now I'm free, let's get the check. I'm thinking about this team. This is where I want to be, first of all." Goldson can also become a free agent. I did not speak with him.
  • Harbaugh joked his way out of answering a question about how he spent Sunday evening following the game. He called it a California thing when people want to know how he feels, what he was doing at a certain time, etc. He cited his status as a Midwesterner in declining to provide specifics. He did confirm where he planned to watch the Super Bowl: "On TV."

That's a wrap from 49ers headquarters. I'll be boarding a plane and heading home Monday night.
One NFL head coach rated John Parry as the league's best referee for a confidential survey back in 2008.

San Francisco 49ers fans might recall Parry for the disputed chop-block call he made against running back Frank Gore at Baltimore in Week 12. The flag wiped out a 75-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. in a game the 49ers lost, 16-6.

That call comes to mind this week after the NFL assigned Parry's crew to work the 49ers' divisional playoff game against New Orleans on Saturday.

Coach John Harbaugh called the ruling in Baltimore "unfortunate" and "unlucky" given what he considered that specific penalty's somewhat inconsistent enforcement.

That was the only chop-block penalty Parry's crew called during the regular season. The NFL did not fine Gore for the block. I thought the call was technically accurate, at best, but it did not fulfill the intent of the rule, which was to protect players. Gore had already committed to deliver a low block when tackle Anthony Davis shoved the defender high.

With an assist from ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing where Parry's crew ranks among the 17 crews in various penalty calls. The NFL shifts to all-star crews for championship games and the Super Bowl.

Parry's low ranking for unnecessary roughness appears offset, at least somewhat, by a higher number of calls for generic personal fouls.
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NFC West penalty watch: 49ers-Hawks ref

December, 24, 2011
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SEATTLE -- Veteran referee Ron Winter gets the call for the San Francisco 49ers' game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

My periodic efforts to find meaning in officiating stats have led to the following chart. Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information provided the officiating data.

I singled out some of the more regularly called penalties and sorted them for Winter based on where his crew ranks in number of such penalties called this season.

For example, Winter's crews have called 16 penalties for delay of game, most in the league. But his crew has called only two penalties for roughing the passer. That ranks 15th out of 17 crews this season.

Winter ranks relatively low in calls for pass interference and illegal contact. That is something to keep in mind for this game. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner leads the league in penalties, with many for infractions during coverage.
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Would NFC West QBs get Brady call?

December, 11, 2011
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The NFL has told its game officials to err on the side of protecting defenseless players.

Blatant erring, the league could do without.

A roughing penalty Sunday against Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher for a hit on New England's Tom Brady played into perceptions the NFL offers special treatment for its prized quarterbacks. Would Alex Smith or Kevin Kolb or Tarvaris Jackson get such a call? I think they might, given the state of officiating. The seemingly clean hit Green Bay's Clay Matthews put on Minnesota's Christian Ponder comes to mind.

Fletcher was already moving in for the tackle when Brady attempted a late slide. Fletcher tackled Brady. Contact included a forearm to Brady's midsection, but no illegal contact. Matthews was not fined for his hit on Ponder. I doubt Fletcher will face a fine, either.

This was a bad call, I thought. Former NFL officiating vice president Mike Pereira, now an officiating analyst for Fox, agreed thusly: "He was sliding late and there was no hit to the head."

The league's emphasis on protecting defenseless players is a worthy one. This season could be one of over-correction. This will be a leading topic for the NFL during the coming offseason. I would expect some clarification of the rules and point of emphasis in an effort to find a balance.

The call against Fletcher was bad enough. Imagine if such a call moved a team into position for the winning field goal during a Super Bowl.

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