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Cowboys vs Lions referee report: How the zebras might help the home team

The Cowboys draw a rather interesting referee crew for their final home game

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys are looking to get back in the win column this week and, what luck, they get to do so at home. They’ll be going for their 16th straight win in AT&T Stadium, but hosting the Detroit Lions means it won’t be easy. This is the type of game where officiating can make all the difference. Before we get into the referee crew for this game, though, let’s refresh on the Cowboys’ penalties each week.

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
vs Eagles 7 60 10 95
at Bills 5 48 1 15
at Dolphins 6 38 5 33
Total 108 910 94 860

The Cowboys were the more penalized team this past week, but barely. They had just one more penalty than Miami and only five more yards from penalties. That’s a bit of a surprise, given the officiating crew in that game. There’s a chance that this week’s referee crew could once again see a very even distribution in penalties.

Brad Allen is in his 10th season as a head referee in the NFL, and he holds a unique distinction. The North Carolina native had worked his way up the officiating ranks in college football, eventually becoming a head referee in the ACC. When the NFL came calling, they brought him in as an umpire ahead of the 2014 season. However, longtime referee Mike Carey unexpectedly retired in June, and the league decided to bump Allen up to the head referee spot, making him the first person since 1962 to become an NFL head referee without any prior experience working on NFL officiating crews.

Here Allen is, nearly a full decade later, still going strong. Over that time, Allen has quickly become known as a godsend for the home team. His first season in the NFL, Allen’s crew finished dead last in total penalties called, but had assessed nearly two thirds of all his penalties against the road team. While that disparity between home and road penalties proved to be the largest his crew ever had, Allen continued to dole out more flags to the road team in each of the next four years.

Then, curiously, Allen’s crew experienced a notable shift. In both 2019 and 2020, Allen’s crew finished with three more penalties on the home team. Just as it appeared Allen might be evolving to more of a down-the-middle approach, the 2021 season saw Allen’s crew throw 22 more flags on the visitors. The next year, that figure went up to 33.

Back to form, or so we thought. With just two weeks left in the 2023 season, Allen’s crew has called just one more penalty on the road team. No other crew has a smaller discrepancy between home and road penalties on the year. In fact, six of Allen’s 13 games this year have seen the two teams finish either tied or one away from a tie in penalties assessed.

Allen may be known for helping out home teams by a considerable margin, but this year he’s generally been keeping things close. As far as total penalties called, Allen’s crew has always fluctuated. He’s finished dead last, led the league, and been everywhere in between over his 10 years. So far this season, only four crews have thrown fewer flags than Allen, but this is not a crew that is known for being lenient; if they see a penalty, they’ll call it.

Having said that, there doesn’t appear to be any strong trends with this crew as far as what types of penalties get called. Allen’s crew led the league last year in both false start and defensive holding, but is near the bottom in both this year. That’s the case across the board, as Allen’s crew tends to just call whatever penalties are actually being committed as opposed to specifically watching for some penalties more than others.

As one might expect, Allen’s style of officiating has generally led to positive results for the home team, who has a 85-70 record when Allen is on the call. Even as his crew has started to call things more closely between home and road teams, the home team has often come out the victor thanks to the general advantages of playing at home. The home team has won each of the last five games Allen has called and, while the home team is 7-6 this year under Allen, all but one of those road victories saw the visitor favored to win. Dallas is currently favored by 5.5 points.

Allen has called nine Cowboys game so far in his career, and they are a meager 3-6 in those games. However, in an odd turn of events, all but one of those games saw the Cowboys on the road; they won their lone home game with Allen on the call, beating the Bengals 20-17 last year in Cooper Rush’s second career start. Three of Allen’s Cowboys games came in Lambeau Field: they lost to Mike McCarthy’s Packers in 2015, beat them in 2016, and then McCarthy made his first return to the stadium last year and the Cowboys lost in overtime.

One interesting note: Allen has also called five Lions games, and Detroit has lost all of them, with two of them coming on the road. However, three of those five games all came during the 2016 season, which was the last time (until now) that Detroit made the playoffs.

Allen’s crew is an interesting one, for sure. Much of his time as a head referee has seen home teams consistently get the benefit of the doubt, though lately Allen has been calling things closer between teams. That still tends to benefit the home team, though, and figures to help the Cowboys in this game.

That said, Allen’s crew also tends to call penalties as they happen, as opposed to being overly strict or overly lenient. That can result in lopsided penalty totals when a disciplined team faces an undisciplined team, which is why it’s worth noting that Dallas leads the league in total penalties while Detroit is in the bottom third of the league. Allen’s assignment to this game should be a good thing for the Cowboys, but they still need to focus on playing disciplined football.

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