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Cowboys at Panthers referee report: How the zebras could affect the game

The Cowboys seem to have gotten a favorable assignment this week in the referee department.

Atlanta Falcons v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Cowboys are preparing for a road trip to face the Panthers, a game in which they are heavy favorites. But that, and other factors, have stirred up some discussion on whether or not this could become a trap game.

In situations like this, officiating assignments can often become even more crucial than normal, as we saw in Week 3 against the Cardinals. Let’s take a quick look at the Cowboys’ weekly penalty breakdown before getting into the referee crew for the Panthers game.

Cowboys Penalties Week by Week

Cowboys Penalties Penalty Yards Opponent Penalties Penalty Yards
Cowboys Penalties Penalty Yards Opponent Penalties Penalty Yards
at Giants 5 35 6 72
vs Jets 6 38 5 29
at Cardinals 13 107 8 69
vs Patriots 5 32 6 50
at 49ers 6 60 6 45
at Chargers 11 85 9 79
vs Rams 4 21 4 25
at Eagles 10 83 10 98
vs Giants 9 83 2 5
Total 69 544 56 472

First off, did anyone realize that the Cowboys were so heavily penalized last week? Perhaps it was just a byproduct of winning by such a large margin, but it didn’t feel like the penalty distribution was that lopsided. In fact, it was the most lopsided for a Cowboys game since that unfortunate loss to the Cardinals, which brings us to this week’s referee assignment.

As far as referees go, Martin is a personal favorite, and not just because he and I live in the same city. Martin is in his sixth season as a head referee, and he’s been one of the most consistent officials over that span. Martin’s crew is one of the most lenient in the NFL, frequently finishing near the bottom in total penalties called. So far this year, his crew is dead last in flags thrown, a full seven penalties below the next officiating crew.

As such, Martin has earned a reputation for letting teams play the game, rarely assessing too many penalties. In fact, you have to go all the way back to October of last year to find the last time a team hit double-digit penalties in a game called by Martin.

Not only is Martin’s crew stingy with the flag, but they’ve also earned a reputation for being tougher on the home team. With the exception of last season, Martin’s crew has finished the year with more penalties on the home team each season. So far this year, he’s calling 59.3% of all penalties against the home team, the highest rate of any crew this year.

However, as one might expect for a referee that so rarely penalizes either side, this hasn’t had much of an impact on the actual outcome. The home team is 46-39 all time in games called by Martin’s crew, and this year alone the home team is 5-3. However, the home team has been more penalized or just as penalized in all but two of those games.

Martin’s predilection for going harder on the home team may not shape the outcome too much, but his hands-off approach to penalties in general has led to a very favorable record for favored teams in his games. The favored team is 6-2 in games called by Martin this year, a trend that’s held true for much of his career.

Martin doesn’t really have too many tendencies as far as the types of penalties called. Offensive holding and false start are the two most common, as always, but even by comparison he’s middle of the pack in how often those two get called. Martin has called the second most neutral zone infraction penalties this year and is tied for the league lead in illegal shift penalties, but that’s a total of nine flags thrown between the two categories. This crew just doesn’t throw the flag very much.

Since becoming a head referee, Martin has called five Cowboys games. The Cowboys are 3-2 in those games, with all three wins coming on the road. The home team was penalized as much or more than the road team in four of those five games. As was stated earlier, Martin is pretty consistent in the way he calls games.

This was pretty much the perfect week for the Cowboys to draw Martin. The Panthers may or may not be able to shock the world on Sunday, but Martin is not the official who is going to help them in any manner. He’ll let these teams play, which bodes well for the heavily favored Cowboys. Unlike the Cardinals game, where the official was known to be aggressive with throwing the flag and favoring the home team, Martin is the complete opposite and should make it that much easier for the Cowboys to avoid a trap game.

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