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Cowboys at Chargers referee report: How the zebras might impact Monday Night Football

Land Clark is the referee for the Cowboys game, so let’s break it down

SPORTS-FBN-COWBOYS-MCCARTHY-FT Yffy Yossifor/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Cowboys play one more game before their bye week, and they’re hoping to go out with a victory. Standing in their way will be the Chargers, who will welcome them into SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles for a Monday Night Football matchup. The Cowboys are looking to bounce back from a horrible showing against the 49ers, a game that featured (among many other things) a handful of penalties that severely hurt the Cowboys’ chances. So what is there to know about this week’s referee crew, led by Land Clark?

Clark is in his fourth season as a head referee in the NFL, having previously worked for just two years as a field judge on the crews of both Carl Cheffers and Adrian Hill. Cheffers and Hill (the latter of whom called the Cowboys’ season opener this year) have developed reputations for being rather even in their splits between the home and road teams, and Clark has thus far been no exception.

Clark’s first year running his own crew ended with him having only called five more penalties on the home team. The next year, it was dead even. Last year, Clark actually called one more penalty on road teams than home teams when all was said and done. Much like the two officials he worked under, Clark doesn’t appear to give any advantages to the home or road team.

So far this year, he’s called 32 penalties on the home team and 37 on the road team. It’s worth noting, however, that these totals are heavily inflated by his Week 5 game between the Vikings and Chiefs, in which Kansas City was penalized a whopping 10 times to Minnesota’s four. That’s the largest discrepancy in penalties that Clark’s crew has had all year, and was running very close to even between the home and road teams coming into that game.

Clark started out very strict as a head referee, placing in the top five of all crews in total penalties called over his first two years. But last year, Clark’s crew experienced a sudden and steep decline in penalties, finishing fifth from the bottom. So far this year, Clark’s crew is sixth in total penalties called, but they had been even lower prior to the aforementioned Chiefs game. It would seem that Clark’s crew is starting to embrace a more hands-off approach to officiating.

As with all crews, Clark’s crew counts offensive holding and false start as their most frequently called penalties. But of the other penalty categories that Clark’s crew consistently calls, a clear trend has emerged: not allowing defensive backs to get too physical. On the year, Clark’s crew leads the league in illegal contact penalties and is among the top three in pass interference and defensive holding penalties.

Clark’s crew has also called the second-most unnecessary roughness penalties, with a near even split between the home and road teams. It seems that Clark is determined to keep games clean and also allow offenses to move the ball without much interference. That makes him an ideal pick for a primetime matchup between two teams with potent offenses.

Clark’s crew has a well-earned reputation for not picking sides, and that’s reflected in the on-field results. The home team is 24-25 in games that Clark has called, though they’re curiously 0-4 so far this year. However, three of those four games had the road team as the favorite while the other one (Rams at Colts) had an even line and ended in overtime. It should be noted that the Cowboys are currently two-point favorites in this one.

Clark has called two Cowboys games in his career as a head referee, and Dallas is 2-0 in those games. The first one was the last time the Cowboys beat the 49ers, back in December of 2020. The home team Cowboys won 41-33 and were penalized five times to the 49ers’ four. The next one saw the Cowboys travel to the Giants in Week 3 last year, also on Monday Night Football. Dallas won 23-16 and was penalized just as many times as the Giants were.

In case you didn’t realize it, both of those games featured a backup quarterback starting for Dallas. Andy Dalton was the starter for the first one, while Cooper Rush made his third career start in the second one. The Cowboys were slight underdogs in both games, but still came out on top. Now, Clark will finally get to call a game with Dak Prescott.

All in all, this referee crew assignment should be good news for Cowboys fans. Clark doesn’t look to give any sort of advantages to either side, and is usually pretty vigilant when defenses get overly physical. After the Cowboys offense struggled to create separation against a very tough 49ers defense, that should be music to Mike McCarthy’s ears.

The bottom line is that Clark’s crew is likely not going to be a big factor in this game. The better team should win, plain and simple. Both the Cowboys and Chargers have struggled with consistency so far this year, so this game should go a long way towards revealing quite a bit about these two teams.

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