NFL Nation: Walt Coleman
Down three points, Dolphins defensive back Jimmy Wilson forced Brady to fumble with nine minutes left in the game. Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon was closing in on the recovery but could not corral the football.
The ball bounced 14 more yards and Patriots left tackle Nate Solder recovered at Miami’s 45-yard line. However, the official threw the flag on Olivier for illegally batting the ball forward.
Instead of losing 22 total yards, New England gained 10 yards on the penalty. The 32-yard swing led to the Patriots scoring their final touchdown four plays later in a 27-17 victory against Miami.
“You know, our stance was we thought he was trying to recover it,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “And they said he illegally batted it.”
Here was referee Walt Anderson’s explanation after the game via the pool report:
“The official on the field, what he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act. Players cannot bat the ball forward. With it being the defensive team they couldn’t bat it in that direction. The offensive team likelwise could not have batted it forward from their side of the field.”
Anderson further explained that the play was not reviewable.
Players in Miami’s locker room would not elaborate much on the questionable officiating Sunday. That may have been an edict from Philbin. It also prevents players from getting fined.
There were a few other plays such as a defensive holding call on Miami cornerback Dimitri Patterson and a potential sideline catch by receiver Rishard Matthews that didn’t go the Dolphins’ way. But Vernon’s call was clearly the most important.
“I was trying to make a play,” Vernon said. “But the ref called it and that’s what it is.”
The league takes great care to keep its officiating out of the public sphere -- last year's disastrous replacement episode aside. There is, however, a trove of information available that I hope will crack open the door and help us think along with NFL teams that are surely tracking the same data and trends.
The website FootballZebras.com has done a great job in recent years uncovering weekly officiating assignments, which the league doesn't confirm until game day, and covering other officiating news. This post is intended as a kickoff to what I'd like to add to the conversation.
You'll find three monster charts culled from spreadsheets passed along by Henry Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information. (Many thanks to the ESPN.com blog-editing team for the formatting.)
The first is a simple accounting of 2012 penalty frequency by officiating crews. Referees don't necessarily dictate the way their crews call games, but it is really the only way to identify these groups. Not every referee worked the same number of games last season, so the most important column is the average number of penalties (accepted and declined) per game.
The gap between the most-active and the least-active penalty-callers is significant. Jeff Triplette's crew averaged 17.7 penalties per game. Scott Green's crew came in at about two-thirds of that total with an average of 12 per game. That's about a 30 percent difference.
You can also find notable gaps in how crews apply individual penalties, and the discrepancy doesn't necessarily line up the same way as in the first chart. For example, the second chart represents an accounting of how each referee's crew called holding against the offense. Ron Winter's crew meted out more than twice the number of holding penalties as three other crews.
I don't think anything nefarious is going on here, nor is this an indicator of competence. To me, it's a reflection of the subjectivity involved in officiating a football game, and it's no different than baseball umpires with varying strike zones or some NBA officials who seem more whistle-happy than others. We hear more about the latter because, frankly, those leagues haven't been as successful at subordinating their personalities as the NFL.
You'd better believe that NFL teams do their best to understand what differences, if any, they'll get based on their crew assignment in a given game. They might not tell their offensive linemen to hold more when they have, say, Walt Coleman, but, well, the numbers are the numbers.
Finally, it's instructive to take detailed looks at who generates the most penalties. The final chart shows the eight players who committed 12 or more penalties -- accepted or declined -- last season. Seven of the eight are offensive linemen or defensive backs.
What will we do with this information during this season and in this space? Honestly, I'm not sure. In a best-case scenario, we might be able to better project the type of game we're going to see based on a reliable history of the officiating crew that's assigned. But we're not going to force it. Let's see where this takes us. As readers of the former NFC North blog know, I'm available for interaction in the comments section, via my ESPN mailbag or Twitter (@SeifertESPN). Feel free to let me know what you think.
As you remember, referee Walt Coleman granted Texans running back Justin Forsett an 81-yard touchdown even when replays revealed he was down by contact seven yards past the line of scrimmage. Lions coach Jim Schwartz challenged the play, breaking the NFL rule that prohibits a coach's challenge on plays such as touchdowns that are automatically reviewed. Because Schwartz's act was considered a delay of game, the rule prevented Coleman from reviewing the play. The touchdown stood.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay -- also the chairman of the NFL's competition committee -- referred to the result as an "anomaly" that was never contemplated in the original rule. The committee will propose a rule change at next week's NFL owners meeting that would work the following way if a coach challenges an automatically reviewable play:
- The team would be charged a timeout.
- If the team has no timeouts remaining, it would receive a 15-yard penalty.
- The play would still be reviewed regardless. If the team wins the review, it would not get its timeout back.
In essence, this rule change would ensure that the desired result -- a correct call -- is not superseded by the punishment for an illegal challenge. The details could be tweaked during further discussion next week, but the loophole will assuredly be closed. It's a year too late for the Lions, but such is life.
As you know by now, Schwartz challenged referee Walt Coleman's ruling that Texans running back Justin Forsett had scored on an 81-yard touchdown run; Forsett was down by contact before he popped up and continued running into the end zone. Touchdowns are automatically reviewed by the game's replay official, and the NFL rule book calls for a 15-yard penalty when a coach challenges one.
It is technically considered a delay of game, and by rule, the penalty prohibits a review of the play.
Many of you have asked, quite simply: Why?
Most likely, the rule was intended to add some teeth to the league's desire to prevent coaches from throwing their flags on automatic reviews to add more time to the replay official's window to made a decision. You might argue that the referee doesn't put the ball back into play until after the official makes the final ruling, but as we found out Sunday at Soldier Field, that is not always the case.
In fact, the replay official can take a second look at a play if a new angle or more information surfaces after an initial ruling and before the next snap.
That's precisely what happened in the third quarter Sunday, when Minnesota Vikings safety Mistral Raymond was initially awarded a touchdown after scooping up and returning a fumble by the Chicago Bears' Matt Forte. Fumbles and touchdowns are automatically reviewed, and replay official Carl Madsen spent one minute, 11 seconds analyzing the play after referee Scott Green's initial call.
None of the video angles available during that period of time showed a clear view of when Forte's knees touched the ground, which is why Madsen initially confirmed the touchdown.
Green announced it as such, and in normal situations, the Vikings would have set up and kicked the extra point. In this instance, though, a few things happened after the confirmation. First, a new angle appeared on the scoreboard at Soldier Field. Second, the Bears' medical staff was still tending to Forte's injured ankle. As Forte walked off the field, Green announced that the play would continue to be reviewed.
An NFL spokesman told Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com that Madsen and Green were well within league rules to "un-confirm" the touchdown. Later angles showed stronger evidence that Forte's knees touched the ground before the fumble, and he was ruled down by contact.
Now, let's project a scenario where Forte was off the field by the time Madsen initially confirmed the touchdown and there was no new replay on the Soldier Field scoreboard. Without the delay-of-game rule and its consequences, Bears coach Lovie Smith could conceivably have challenged the play to give Madsen more time to see a different angle. That's what the NFL was trying to avoid with this rule. Replay after scores and fumbles are entirely out of the coaches' and teams' hands.
In the end, however, it wound up with an unintended consequence. The goal of replay is to get calls right, and the process shouldn't be used as a carrot to enforce other rules. That's why the league likely will re-write the rule to allow a review to continue even if an coach is penalized for delay of game. But there is reason to think the penalty for delay of game -- and perhaps more -- will stick if a coach challenges an automatic review in the future. One idea: Take away a coach's remaining challenges if he throws his red flag on an automatic review.
The second chart breaks down defensive pass-interference numbers by crew for the last three seasons.
The next chart breaks down offensive pass interference by crew for the 2010 season only.
Note that Coleman's crew has called only one such penalty this season, second-fewest in the league behind Seattle favorite Bill Leavy.
The next chart breaks down the offensive pass-interference calls by crew for the last three seasons.
The final chart shows three-year totals for roughing the passer, by crew.
Seattle fans might remember the controversial roughing penalty against Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock during the team's defeat at New Orleans in Week 11.
The pivotal play did not draw a fine, tacit admission that referee Mike Carey's crew erred on the call.
Coleman's crews have only four roughing calls over the last three seasons, fewest in the league among referees working continuously since 2008.
Note: All info from ESPN Stats & Information and includes declined penalties.
Also via Facebook, Rams fan Brian suggested Leavy's transgressions at Seattle's expense in Super Bowl 40 paled next to the errors another referee, Bernie Kukar, made at the St. Louis Rams' expense in their Super Bowl 36 game against the New England Patriots (Brian might not recall this, but Leavy's crew made a couple tough calls against the Rams, too).
I do recall Rams fans complaining about the Patriots roughing up Marshall Faulk and preventing him from releasing as a receiver out of the backfield, but New England played well enough to win that game, I thought. Similarly, I think the Seahawks did not play well enough to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl Leavy officiated.
With all these warm feelings for referees and officiating coursing through fans, I'm guessing the NFL will be a little more careful in assigning referees to future training camps.
Three pairings I'd like to see during 2011 camps:
1. Leavy and the Seahawks. Perhaps the team could invite fans -- or even former coach Mike Holmgren -- for a question-and-answer session. The league could sell highlight videos ranking Leavy's calls from best to worst.
2. Walt Coleman and the Oakland Raiders. Fans might remember Coleman for his controversial (but correct) tuck-rule interpretation in the Raiders' AFC divisional playoff defeat to the New England Patriots following the 2001 season. Coleman hasn't worked a Raiders game since that memorable ruling. Camping in Napa can't be all that rough.
3. Ed Hochuli and the San Diego Chargers. The referee famous for his muscled physique also became known for the whistle he blew prematurely at the Chargers' expense during a 2008 game against the Broncos. Ironically, Hochuli previously had not worked a Broncos game since flagging Denver nine times for 113 yards during a game against San Diego.
Previously: NFL officiating assignments.
Mike Sando: I have personally tracked assessed penalties and replay challenges since Mike Holmgren complained about officiating in Super Bowl XL. I also went back through records to include data since 2001. ESPN Stats & Information also tracks this information. My replay information is more detailed because it counts booth challenges, but its referee information is superior because it counts declined penalties, not just accepted ones. Its information also breaks down penalty types by crew.
Based on my records, Ron Winter's crews have assessed more penalties per game since 2003 than those headed by any of the 16 other current referees. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Winter's crew is calling more total penalties per game -- accepted plus declined -- than any other crew in 2009.
Scott Green is working the 49ers-Packers game in Week 11. Ed Hochuli is working the Seahawks-Vikings game. I'll check on the Cardinals-Rams referee once I get to the Edward Jones Dome a little later.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Based on Jim Mora's general postgame comportment Sunday, the Seahawks' coach is probably fortunate no one asked what role officiating played in the game.
Referee Don Carey, who accounted for five of 19 replay reversals through Week 2, made his league-leading sixth reversal a memorable one when he returned possession to the Bears following Matt Forte's fumble at the Seattle 1-yard line. Linebacker David Hawthorne had recovered for the Seahawks, who held a 13-0 lead at the time.
"A decision will be reversed only when the referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him," the rule book states.
This one appeared inconclusive at best.
Mora's postgame rant against kicker Olindo Mare might have read differently had anyone pressed for his thoughts on Carey's reversal. I doubt he would have the ruling, uh, acceptable.
"If you’re a kicker in the National Football League you should make those kicks -- bottom line," Mora said of Mare. "End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind, doesn’t matter. You’ve gotta makes those kicks. Especially in a game like this, where you’re kicking and fighting and scratching your tail off and you miss those kicks, it’s not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable."
Carey suffered two reversals -- and Mike Singletary's ire -- while working the 49ers-Cardinals game in Week 1. He suffered three more reversals in Week 2. The NFL's 17 referees have suffered 26 replay reversals in 48 games this season. More than a third involved calls made by Carey, a rookie referee, and second-year ref Al Riveron.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SAN FRANCISCO -- The media flip card at Candlestick Park features a name familiar to Seahawks fans: Bill Leavy.
The veteran referee is working a Seahawks game for the first time since Mike Holmgren complained bitterly about calls that went against Seattle during the team's loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL after the 2005 season.
This appears to be part of an NFL trend discussed here after Week 1.
For years, the league appeared to shield referees from working games involving teams that suffered from controversial calls, even when those calls were correct.
Walt Coleman still hasn't worked a Raiders game since invoking the tuck rule during the Patriots' playoff victory over Oakland on Jan. 19, 2002. Before last season, Ed Hochuli hadn't worked a Broncos game since Oct. 8, 2000. Before last week, referee Jeff Triplette hadn't worked an Eagles game since Oct. 23, 2001. Those games featured high-profile officiating decisions that worked against the teams involved.
Leavy's crew called controversial penalties against Darrell Jackson, Sean Locklear and Matt Hasselbeck during Super Bowl XL.
"We knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers," coach Mike Holmgren told fans during a postgame rally. "I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well."
Holmgren's departure from the Seahawks after last season might have cleared the way for this unwanted reunion. I have a hard time envisioning the league assigning Leavy to a game featuring Holmgren as one of the coaches.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Replay officials have challenged rulings more frequently since the last time we pointed out wide disparities in replay rates during the final 2 minutes of halves.
Four referees hadn't faced a single booth-initiated challenge through Week 13. Those four referees have faced five such challenges in the last two weeks.
The challenge Walt Coleman faced in Baltimore was only the third raised against him this season in the final 2 minutes of a half, according to information I have tracked since 2003. Referees Gene Steratore, Ron Winter, Tony Corrente and Ed Hochuli have faced a combined 40 such challenges.
The NFL assigns the same replay officials to the same referees as part of an overall effort to foster continuity among crews.If replay officials applied the same standards each game, we might expect referees to face a similar number of booth-initiated challenges over time.
That was not the case in past seasons and it isn't the case in 2008. The inconsistent numbers raise the possibility of inconsistent standards for challenges.
The chart shows booth-initiated challenges by referee. NFL games featured 33 total challenges in Week 15, a season high even without the Monday night game. Total challenges have risen each week since Week 12 (from 19 to 25 to 27 to 33).
|Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
|Referee Walt Colman ruled that the ball broke the plane on this Santonio Holmes game-winning touchdown reception.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BALTIMORE -- In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 13-9 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, our AFC North inbox exploded with tons of e-mail asking for an explanation of the controversial game-winning touchdown by receiver Santonio Holmes.
So here is Sunday night's transcript of NFL referee Walt Coleman, who reversed the call after reviewing the instant replay.
Why was it ruled a touchdown?
Walt Coleman: You have to have two feet down to complete the catch. He had two feet down and completed the catch with control of the ball breaking the plane of the goal line.
So the ball broke the plane in your view?
WC: Yeah, the ball was breaking the plane. He had two feet down. When he gained control of the ball, the ball was breaking the plane and then he fell into the field of play. But to have a touchdown, all you have to have is a catch, which is two feet down, possession and control of the ball breaking the plane.
Why was the original call not ruled a touchdown?
WC: [Paul Weidner] felt like when the receiver gained possession of the ball, the ball was not breaking the plane of the goal line.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offers his view of the controversial finish and a look ahead to Pittsburgh's next game against the Titans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Scott Green's crew assessed zero penalties against the Patriots. Al Riveron's crew assessed one penalty against the Browns.Those figures helped bring down the overall numbers for Week 8, despite the Rams' protests.
The chart breaks down crews by referee, penalties assessed per game, replay challenges and replay reversals.The number of replay challenges per game increased every season from 2003 to 2007, but the numbers are down to their lowest levels since 2004 this season. Fewer challenges mean fewer interruptions, generally a good thing in my view.
John Parry and Jerome Boger remained the only referees without a replay reversal this season. Peter Morelli joined Green with a league-high five reversals after initially disallowing a Chiefs touchdown pass against the Jets.
Available for download: full crew-by-crew breakdowns for penalties and replay.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFL officiating crews have assessed between 9.3 and 16.2 penalties per game this season. The range was between 8.9 and 14.3 last season.
The chart breaks down crews by referee, penalties assessed per game, replay challenges and replay reversals.
John Parry and Jerome Boger remained the only referees without a replay reversal this season. Parry shot down Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, who had been 4-0 in challenges this season.
Ron Winter, working the Colts-Packers game, became the fifth referee to suffer two reversals in a game this season. He reversed Indy touchdowns on consecutive plays, but the Colts scored on the third try.
Scott Green, working the Seahawks-Bucs game, suffered his league-high fifth reversal of the season when Mike Holmgren challenged Ike Hilliard's fumble.
Assessed penalties have climbed over the last three weeks. The crews of Walt Anderson (49ers-Giants), Boger (Jets-Raiders) and Winter (Colts-Packers) each assessed more than 20 penalties during Week 7, the first time this season three crews have reached that total.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFL officiating crews have assessed between nine and 17.4 penalties per game this season. The range was between 8.9 and 14.3 last season.
The chart breaks down crews by referee, penalties assessed per game, replay challenges and replay reversals.NFC West teams have lamented several influential calls already this season. A few:
- In Week 1, Gene Steratore's crew flagged 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald for roughing the passer on a third-and-9 play. The disputed penalty helped the Cardinals sustain a third-quarter touchdown drive as they extended a 13-10 lead to 20-10.
- In Week 2, Jerome Boger's crew flagged Seahawks safety Deon Grant for pass interference, negating an interception in the end zone. Replays revealed the call as dubious. The 49ers scored a touchdown shortly thereafter.
- In Week 7, Peter Morelli's crew ruled Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo down, negating a lost fumble. The call appeared unwarranted.
Referees and their crews make the right calls hundreds of times each season. That buys them little relief when calls go wrong. Ed Hochuli knows this better than most.
I'm keeping a log of questionable calls involving NFC West teams this season. The three listed above stood out. If you have others, let me know. Thanks in advance.
1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Atlanta Green Bay 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New England 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Detroit Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Miami Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Kansas City Washington 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Baltimore 4:05 PM ET Tennessee Denver 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Arizona 4:25 PM ET New York San Diego 4:25 PM ET Seattle San Francisco 8:30 PM ET Carolina New Orleans