This year, we’re trying out something new here at Blogging The Boys with a weekly referee report. While a football game is primarily decided by the two teams playing the game, it’s hard to avoid the fact that a referee crew has at least some impact on the way the game is played. Some crews call certain penalties more than others, while other crews tend to let teams just play ball a little more.
Coaches usually do at least some level of scouting on their referee assignment each week, and now you’ll get that information as well. As the Cowboys prepare to kick off their season on the road in prime time against the Giants, they’ve drawn the referee crew led by Adrian Hill.
Hill is entering his fifth season as a head referee, having previously worked as a line judge, field judge, and side judge since the 2010 season. Since becoming a head referee, Hill and his crew have settled into a groove that’s allowed him to become one of the lesser known referees in the NFL. As with kickers and offensive linemen, it’s usually a good sign for a referee to not be well known, as it means they’re not making calls that causes fans or players to remember their name.
Hill’s first two years as a head referee saw his crew rank fifth both years in total penalties called, getting a bit quick on the trigger with the flags. But Hill’s crew has calmed down a bit, ranking closer to the middle of the pack the last two years. Hill has earned a reputation as a fair referee who lets teams play, but is unafraid to call penalties when necessary.
Hill has tended to favor the home team, a trend that has grown more considerable over his tenure. In 2019, Hill had a 52/48 split in penalties between the road and home team, respectively. That’s since grown to a 55/45 split, which isn’t a staggering discrepancy but still one that is noticeable.
This discrepancy hasn’t seemed to impact the games too much, though, as the home team is 30-34 all-time in games with Hill as the head referee. Last year, in particular, the home team was 9-8 in games called by Hill, and there were actually five games where Hill called as many or more penalties on the home team as he did on the road team. The fact that he’s not overly consistent in favoring the home team is why Hill has earned a reputation for fairness.
As far as the types of penalties that Hill’s crew tends to call the most, there is a clear emphasis on not letting players get too grabby. In 2022, Hill called the second-most offensive holding penalties and the second-most defensive holding penalties. In both categories, there was a nearly even split between the home and road teams, but Hill’s crew clearly doesn’t want a game that’s dominated by players grabbing onto each other.
In all the other penalty categories, Hill’s crew has been right around the average in terms of frequency, if not below average. He’s consistently called extracurricular penalties - such as taunting, unsportsmanlike conduct, blindside blocks, and roughing the passer - at one of the lowest rates in the NFL.
Since becoming a head referee, Hill has called just three games for the Cowboys and all three of them have been in Dallas. The Cowboys won all three of those games - vs the Dolphins in 2019, Eagles in 2020, and Lions in 2022 - by multiple scores. That said, two of those games saw the Cowboys as the more penalized team despite being the home team.
All in all, Hill has a reputation for being very fair to both sides in his games. His crew does not tolerate grabby play by either the offense or defense, which could make it difficult for a Dallas defense that likes to play a lot of tight man coverage. That said, Micah Parsons has been known to draw a lot of holding calls, so that should work in the Cowboys’ favor. Nothing about Hill and his crew’s body of work suggests the Cowboys are at any sort of disadvantage as the road team, though this is the first time Hill will be calling a Cowboys game not in AT&T Stadium.