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Cowboys at Eagles referee report: How the zebras could affect crucial NFC East clash

The always unknown in a football game, how the referees call it

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Cowboys are coming off their most complete win of the year while the Eagles, once again, notched a very close win over the Commanders. Now, the two rivals face each other for the first time this season, with the upper hand in the NFC East hanging in the balance. Rivalry games between the Cowboys and Eagles always figure to be especially physical, which makes officiating all the more crucial. Let’s take a quick look at the Cowboys’ penalty totals so far this year before getting into their referee crew for this 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
Total 50 378 44 369

The Cowboys were only penalized four times against the Rams, who also had four penalties. That kept the discrepancy between penalties for and against the Cowboys fairly even, as there’s only been one game all year where Dallas has been significantly more penalized.

That trend seems likely to continue this week in Philadelphia, as the Cowboys draw Tra Blake for their clash against the Eagles.

Blake is only in his second season as a head referee and fourth total season as an official in any capacity. His first full season as a head referee saw Blake’s crew finish firmly in the middle of the pack in total penalties called, with slightly more penalties called against the road team.

So far this year, that trend has held true. Blake is throwing more flags, averaging two more total penalties per game than a year ago, but is still calling things pretty close between the teams. Right now, he’s called three more penalties on the home team. In the seven games Blake’s crew has called this year, three of them have seen more penalties on the home team, three of them have seen more on the road team, and the seventh game had an equal amount of penalties. Week 1 was the only time where the discrepancy between teams was more than two penalties. In other words, Blake does not play favorites to either side.

One common theme for Blake is that he tends to call things close for the defense, especially on passing plays. His crew leads the league in both pass interference and holding penalties against the defense. The Cowboys have only been called for pass interference four times this year, while the Eagles have five such penalties; both of those figures could jump this week.

Blake balances it out a little bit by having an eagle eye (no pun intended) when it comes to ineligible man downfield penalties. These penalties have become much more common with the expanded use of RPO’s in the league. Blake’s crew leads the NFL in these penalties as well. Of note: the Eagles have run the third-most RPO’s this year, while Dallas is 10th in RPO frequency. Don’t be surprised if a flag gets thrown for ineligible man downfield in this one.

Like all officiating crews, Blake’s most commonly called penalties are false starts and offensive holding. False start penalties are really outside of the referee’s control, but offensive holding is so prevalent in any game that it really becomes a judgment call from each crew as to how often they’ll call it. And so far this year, Blake’s crew has been more lax than most crews in that regard: they’re in the bottom third of all crews in offensive holding calls.

As far the outcome of the game goes, Blake’s crew hasn’t yet established much of a trend one way or the other. In his one and a half seasons as a head referee, the home team is 15-8 in games called by Blake. That includes a stretch where the home team won the final seven home games Blake called last year, but five of those games involved heavy favorites winning at home. While the Eagles are favored in this one, it’s only by a mere three points, which some will say is solely made up of homefield advantage. Of note: one of those home wins was the Vikings’ historic comeback over the Jeff Saturday Colts.

So far this year, the home team is 4-3 in games called by Blake’s crew. Two interesting nuggets this season: the home team is 2-5 against the spread and 1-2 straight up when favored by three points or less. In other words, Blake’s style of calling the game makes it more likely that this one will be very close.

Both the Cowboys and Eagles have only ever played one game with Blake as the head referee. For the Cowboys, Blake called their Week 18 game last year, a road loss to the Commanders that Dallas were likely not really trying to win. For the Eagles, it was a narrow 20-17 road win over the Cardinals in early October.

All in all, Blake’s assignment to this game seems like the best call. His crew has clear tendencies in the way they call a game, keeping defensive backs honest, but they’re not interested in controlling the game or favoring home or road teams. With the magnitude of this game, and how close the Cowboys and Eagles appear to be, this should result in a very competitive game where the best team wins.

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