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NFL Officials Locked Out: How Has Officiating Impacted The NFC East?

DeMarcus Ware always puts his hand up to check with the officials whether or not he's offsides. Flagged 6 times for offsides in 2011, he must be growing suspicious...
DeMarcus Ware always puts his hand up to check with the officials whether or not he's offsides. Flagged 6 times for offsides in 2011, he must be growing suspicious...

The NFL has decided to lock out its striking officials. Seeking increases to their current compensation, the men in stripes feel they should be paid on par with officials in other major sports.

After receiving information that the officials would drag out negotiations to increase leverage this summer, the NFL took preemptive measures, locking out the officials in order to begin training replacements. The story broke on June 4th, but it received very little press - perhaps due to the league's constant efforts to keep the officiating out of the headlines (when was the last time a blown call made anything other than local news?).

As a fan of the Cowboys, (and due to the current state of the news cycle), I could not allow this story to remain under the radar. How will the sudden shortage in zebras affect the Cowboys' 2012 season?

Follow the jump for my Hochuli-an effort to decipher the impact of officiating on the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC East...

Many Cowboys fans have opined that the league's officials have been unusually zealous in their commitment to penalize the Cowboys while overlooking the missteps of their opponents. Once the Cowboys brought officials into practice beginning in 2010, the penalties decreased to end the season. Despite continuing to use officials in practice and training camp, and the commitment to perfection under new coach Jason Garrett, the Dallas Cowboys were third in the league in yards given up on penalties and fifth in the league in total penalties enforced.

Is it possible that the Cowboys are being singled out by the referees, much like the Raiders of, well, forever? Have a look at the raw data, and see what you think.

Based on those figures, here's a look at the NFC East in terms of penalties.

On the left are the penalties against the team, on the right are the penalties on the other team.

Penalties Cowboys Redskins Eagles Giants
Total Flags 127 92 101 146 123 117 110 122
Enforced 114 85 91 123 107 97 94 110
Declined 11 5 7 20 10 14 12 8
Offsetting 2 2 3 3 6 6 4 4

Who else is surprised to see that the Redskins are the favorite sons of the NFC East? I use the term favorite for this reason: not only are the Redskins the least penalized team in the division, they also receive the highest number of calls against their opponents. With the Cowboys, the situation is reversed. In fact, the number of flags thrown (92) against our opponents is the lowest in the league. The next worst teams have a three^way tie with 100 each (Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Cleveland).

Surely, this isn't the treatment you'd expect America's team to receive, is it?

Maybe it is. Time and again you see articles twisting the truth or manipulating headlines to highlight the Cowboys in a negative light. Much like troubled Cowboys fan LeBron James, the Cowboys can never seem to escape the negative press, or even just the press in general.

Cowboys fans will not abandon their team no matter how often it loses, gets called out by the media, or receives completely inaccurate analysis. Cowboys haters, on the other hand, love nothing more than to watch anti-Star propaganda. Therefore, networks will receive more viewership the less successful the Cowboys are. Perhaps the NFL realizes this and, in an effort to secure more lucrative contracts, passed it on to the officials? Perhaps the officials themselves simply don't like the Cowboys? Perhaps the Jason Garrett Cowboys are just as boneheaded and undisciplined as the Wade Phillips Cowboys (or perhaps neither was so undisciplined in the first place)?

If you think the problem lies in lack of discipline, check out this nugget from OCC (received via email):

The Cowboys were one of only five teams last season not to get called for a personal foul. In fact, they haven't been called for a personal foul since 2008, which gives them (together with the 49ers) the longest no-personal-foul streak in the NFL.

Undisciplined players (think Albert Haynesworth stomping on Andre Gurode) tend to draw personal fouls as well as normal flags. The Cowboys, somehow, have accumulated tons of the latter, but none of the former.

Another fun fact: The Cowboys, in prime time (Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Saturday night, and Thanksgiving), receive an average of 1.48 times the number of penalties enforced against them as their opponents. In essence, the Cowboys see three flags to their opponents two. In other games, the Cowboys are penalized a less obvious 1.26 times as often as their opponents (about a 5 to 4 ratio).

Despite seeing the highest number of flags thrown in the division, in only 2 cases were there fouls on the other team as well (offsetting penalties). The Oakland Raiders are the only other team in the top 10 (Dallas is number 10, Oakland number 1) with only 2 offsetting penalties. This gives the Cowboys an offsetting penalty rate of approximately 1.6%. The Redskins, Giants, and Eagles come in at roughly 3, 4, and 5 percent, respectively.

Oh, and do you remember all of the press the Lions got for playing undisciplined football and drawing a ton of flags? Maybe some thought that the Lions accomplished what they did in spite of earning the referee's scorn. Wrong. There were 146 flags thrown at the Lions in total, good for fourth in the league, but 149 thrown at their opponents, the number one figure in football. Despite the Lions consistent undisciplined play the referees managed to find more fault in their opponents and reward them with some additional fuel for their playoff run.

Standby for more analysis, and much more data...

Referees Cowboys Redskins Eagles Giants
Al Riveron 13 4 2 8 5 5 8 2
Ron Winter 8 5 3 8 7 7 15 7
Ed Hochuli 15 10 10 15 -- -- 7 10
John Parry 7 10 6 6 -- -- -- --
Walt Coleman 17 11 10 9 5 4 -- --
Gene Steratore 3 6 3 9 15 11 4 11
Terry McAulay 9 16 4 6 -- -- 5 7
Jerome Boger 8 3 3 13 10 3 -- --
Pete Morelli 11 6 3 10 5 5 11 17
Scott Green 10 6 -- -- 6 6 6 10
Bill Leavy 6 5 9 8 13 15 -- --
Walt Anderson 7 3 -- -- 11 7 3 7
Carl Cheffers -- -- 12 14 12 13 7 11
Clete Blakeman -- -- 10 9 7 11 -- --
Jeff Triplette -- -- 8 4 7 4 10 11
Tony Corrente -- -- 8 4 -- -- 6 5
Mike Carey -- -- -- -- 5 5 5 5

Here's my first question: is Al Riveron overly patriotic? He assigned the Jets a season low, NFL record (one would suppose) 0 penalties on the 10th anniversary of September 11th, while calling 7 against the Cowboys. The Jets would go on to commit 6.8 penalties per game for the last 15 games of the season. Riveron also officiated a single game for the Redskins (who, for those who didn't know, are based in our nation's capital). In that game, the Redskins were called for a season-low 2 penalties while the Giants tied their season high with 8 (the first 8 penalty performance came in week 1, also against the Redskins) despite the Redskins being on the road, out of the playoffs, and facing a Giants team fighting to stay alive.

Perhaps this table will make you pay a bit more attention to which zebras are featured in our weekly circuses. NFL referees maintain fairly consistent crews, so view the names more as team names than individuals. Those that were kind to the Cowboys were very kind. In fact, there were four officials (Ed Hochuli, Walt Coleman, Al Riveron, and Terry McAulay) who covered two games for the Cowboys. The first three all assessed more penalties on the Cowboys in both games, and the last, Terry McAulay (is that our Terry?!) was consistently more kind, assessing nearly double the number of penalties on our opponents.

Perhaps, then, it isn't a league-wide conspiracy, but a widespread personal prejudice, somewhat offset by a smaller set of personal bias. Is it strange, then, that the Redskins (another globally popular team) also feature similar polar opposite penalty differentials? Perhaps not. The Eagles, somewhat lacking for fans in comparison to their division mates, actually saw multiple games in which the referees saw fit to not pick sides, and assessed identical numbers of penalties against each team.

But what about Division Games? You must be curious how many of these referees prefer particular teams. Here you are:

HOME/Away Cowboys Redskins Eagles Giants
COWBOYS - - Ed Hochuli (9/6) Bill Leavy (6/5) Scott Green (10/6)
REDSKINS Ed Hochuli (4/6) - - Bill Leavy (9/8) Ron Winter (3/8)
EAGLES Gene Steratore (6/3) Carl Cheffers (8/6) - - Jeff Triplette (7/4)
GIANTS Walt Anderson (3/7) Al Riveron (8/2) Mike Carey (5/5) - -

There are a few points of interest: first, Bill Leavy is the only official to give more calls to Philadelphia within the division (though barely). Leavy is the official that allegedly handed Pittsburgh its Super Bowl XL Victory over Seattle, and he also officiated the Divisional Playoff between Green Bay and New York, in which he made several controversial calls that appeared to benefit Green Bay. The Eagles, throughout the entire season, only received the benefit of the officials during one other game, officiated by Carl Cheffers. In week 17, Cheffers officiated the regular season finale between the Redskins and Eagles, and did not repeat the favor to Philadelphia.

Other than one of the games with the aforementioned Bill Leavy, Washington received the benefit of the officials in every divisional game. Ed Hochuli officiated both games between the Cowboys and Redskins, during which there were some notable questions, most specifically the Redskins alleged illegal mimicry of Tony Romo's snap count and a well-known tackle of DeMarcus Ware by Trent Williams.

Mike Carey, who awarded the only game of equal penalties, is best known for allowing Eli Manning, in Super Bowl XLII, enough time to file his state and federal tax returns while in the grasp of half the Patriots' defensive squad, eventually throwing the ball to David Tyree and going on to win the game.

So what do you think, BTB? Is there some sort of Referee conspiracy? Do referees pick favorites in games? How will the replacement referees impact the Cowboys?

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