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Cowboys vs Eagles referee report: Which way the zebras might lean on Sunday Night Football

What does John Hussey’s crew mean for the Cowboys?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The Cowboys are set for their rematch against the Eagles, hoping to avenge a very narrow loss in Philadelphia a month ago that ultimately came down to just a couple of plays. Naturally, the officiating assignment for this Sunday Night Football game carries a bit more importance than the usual game. Before we dive into that, though, let’s check out the Cowboys’ weekly penalty breakdown.

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
at Panthers 5 45 8 90
vs Commanders 7 48 4 25
vs Seahawks 9 127 10 130
Total 90 764 78 717

Last week saw two of the most penalized teams in the NFL trading penalties all night, which wasn’t much of a surprise given the officiating crew. That’s similar to how things went down the first time the Cowboys played the Eagles this year, when both teams were penalized 10 times. While that was to be expected in that game, the referee crew for this game should see a very different result in the penalty category.

John Hussey is one of the longest-tenured officials in football, having joined the NFL all the way back in 2002 as a line judge. He became a head referee in 2015 and is now in the midst of his ninth season leading his own crew. That gives him a pretty sizable career of how Hussey calls games, over which he’s developed a reputation for helping the home team.

Since 2017, Hussey’s crew has always finished the year with more penalties called on the road team than the home team, often by a wide margin. So far this year, he’s called the third-most penalties on road teams and is calling 54.7% of his penalties on the road team, the fifth-highest rate of any crew this year.

Not only does Hussey give a clear benefit of the doubt to the home team, but that has generally led to favorable results for the home team as well. Throughout Hussey’s career as a head referee, the home team is 90-51 in games called by his crew. This year specifically, the home team is 8-3. Of the three road wins Hussey oversaw, one featured the Chiefs narrowly losing in Week 1 without Travis Kelce while another was the heavily favored Dolphins beating the Jets on Black Friday.

It has been noted that the Eagles have never lost a game with Hussey, and it’s true that they’re 7-0 with Hussey on the call. However, it needs to be pointed out that five of those wins came in Philadelphia, which is not surprising given Hussey’s penchant for helping the home team. As for the two road wins the Eagles have under Hussey, one of them came in London, where there wasn’t a true home team. The other was a win over the Bills, who were favored by just one point despite being the home team. Given Hussey’s large sample size of games, and the actual breakdown of Eagles games he’s called, it’s very hard to actually draw the conclusion that he just favors the Eagles.

Hussey has also called eight Cowboys games as a head referee, and Dallas is 4-4 in those games. However, they’re 3-1 at home, with the lone loss being that Christmas Eve game against the Seahawks in 2017. Featuring Ezekiel Elliott’s return from suspension, the Cowboys lost 21-12 and virtually cost themselves a shot at the postseason. While Hussey called four more penalties on the visiting Seahawks in that game, Dallas had three turnovers that proved too costly.

Anyway you slice it, Hussey has consistently been a boon for the home team, and it’s rare for the home team to lose a game in which they are the favorite. The Cowboys, of course, are the home team this week and are currently favored by 3.5 points.

As far as actual penalty assessments, Hussey has recently developed a reputation for letting teams play without much interference from his crew. In each of the last two seasons, Hussey finished among the bottom three in total penalties called, averaging less than 12 penalties per game both years. However, this year he’s up to fifth in total penalties called thus far, and his 16.18 flags per game actually leads the league. Even still, the home team is often the less penalized team, holding true to form.

There are a few types of penalties that Hussey has developed clear trends in how his crew calls things. He leads the league in defensive offsides penalties, for starters. That’s bad news for a Cowboys defense that leads the league in offsides calls. However, he’s also calling the fourth-most unnecessary roughness penalties, an area where the Cowboys are third among teams benefitting from that penalty this year.

Hussey also has an odd trend as it relates to defensive coverage. Only one crew has called fewer pass interference penalties than Hussey’s, and this crew is also fifth from the bottom in defensive holding calls. However, they’re second in illegal contact penalties; the Cowboys are the number one beneficiary of illegal contact on the year, and interestingly have never been called for it themselves this season.

All in all, Hussey’s assignment to this game should offer some hope for the Cowboys, who were already the favorite in this rematch. Hussey’s crew is known to favor the home team, a trend that bears out over nine seasons of data, and the Cowboys are one of the most dominant home teams of the last nine years. That doesn’t mean this won’t be a close game, or that the Cowboys won’t be called for a single penalty (smart money is on at least one offsides penalty), but it does boost their odds of winning ever so slightly.

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