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Cowboys vs Packers referee report: How the zebras might impact Wild Card game

Hopefully officiating does not have an impact on Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Cowboys made it through the end of the season as division champions, and now they get to host the Packers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Recent history between these two teams is filled with moments that highlight the officials, whether it be Jalen Tolbert’s offensive offsides penalty a year ago, or the infamous Dez Bryant catch controversy back in the 2016 playoffs.

Before getting into this week’s officiating assignment, though, let’s review the Cowboys’ penalty totals over the full season.

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
vs Lions 5 34 6 35
at Commanders 2 20 4 39
Total 115 964 104 934

The Cowboys finished in a tie with the Browns as the second-most penalized team in the league, though they led the NFL in total penalty yardage. There was a stark difference between their offense and defense, with the defense ranking third in defensive penalties while the offense was 15th. Interestingly, the Cowboys’ special teams was second in penalties behind none other than Green Bay.

While the Cowboys were a heavily penalized team all year long, they rounded into shape over the last month. They tallied seven or more penalties in seven of their first 13 games this year, but Dallas had zero such games in the last four weeks, with two of them seeing the opponent hit with more penalties. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues with this week’s referee crew.

The Cowboys draw Ron Torbert as the head referee, but it must be noted that playoff officiating crews are different from the regular season. While a head referee works with the same crew throughout the regular season, they are given a mixed “all star” crew for the postseason. So Torbert will be working with a crew of eight other officials (and five alternates) with just two of them having worked with Torbert throughout the season.

That adds an element of unpredictability to this exercise, but generally speaking the head referee will set the tone for how his crew calls a particular game. Obviously, that becomes less coherent when mixing together the crew like this, but we know enough about Torbert - in his 10th season as a head referee and 14th year total - to pick out some trends.

Throughout his lengthy career, Torbert has generally been known as one of the more fair officials. That doesn’t necessarily mean he always calls things evenly between teams, as other crews do, but rather that Torbert’s splits between teams can often fluctuate based on the teams playing.

For instance, Torbert has had five different seasons in which his crew has finished with at least 10 more penalties (but often more) called on the road team, three seasons with at least 10 more penalties on the home team, and two seasons with a nearly even split. In other words, Torbert tends to call it as he sees it, without much consistency in favoring one specific team over another.

This has translated to an overwhelmingly positive record for home teams when Torbert is on the call. Throughout his 10 years, Torbert has seen the home team go 100-63, one of the best home records of any crew. Curiously, home teams have become even better under Torbert since 2019, during which homefield advantage has generally declined across the league. Over these last five years, the home team is 53-31 under Torbert.

Torbert’s crew has also been unpredictable in terms of which penalties they focus on. While they most often call offensive holding and false start penalties, like every other crew, Torbert has consistently been in the middle of the pack in frequency for both. Similarly, Torberrt’s crew has been hovering near the average in most penalty categories this year, though his crew has changed pretty consistently over the years. Again, he’ll call a penalty if he sees it, as opposed to looking for specific ones.

Torbert has called eight games for the Cowboys and they are 3-5 in those games, including a 1-4 record at home. That makes them one of a small handful of teams with a losing record at home under Torbert. However, two of those losses (2015 against the Panthers, 2022 against the Buccaneers) saw the Cowboys’ starting quarterback leave with an injury, while another was Dak Prescott’s NFL debut in 2016. The other home loss was against the Packers in 2019, so combining that with the fact that Torber’s last Cowboys game was also the last time they lost in AT&T Stadium is sure to terrify some fans.

On the flip side, Torbert has called 10 Packers game over the years, and Green Bay is 6-4 in those games. However, they’re only 3-3 on the road when Torbert is on the call, and only one of those road wins came with Matt LaFleur as the head coach; naturally, that game was the win over the Cowboys, led by Jason Garrett at the time.

Torbert’s crew is generally unpredictable due to their tendency to call a game without any real tendencies, and they’re even harder to predict in this one with the mixed crew. Generally speaking, though, Torbert means good news for the home team, though the Cowboys are one of the rare teams to have struggled at home with him on the call. It’s hard to say whether Torbert’s assignment will impact this game at all, especially with the Cowboys being heavy favorites, but Dallas will need to continue their recent run of discipline to avoid getting heavily penalized by a pretty fair officiating crew.

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