Over the course of a season, the NFL's 17 officiating crews develop a personality. Tendencies, strengths and weaknesses all emerge. Think of them as umpires in baseball, each of whom -- simply as a result of human individuality -- have an identifiable strike zone.
Six weeks of games provide enough of a sample size to start building a profile of the crews. Most NFL teams perform the same analysis, with the understanding that the numbers are impacted not only by officiating habits but also by the quality and abilities of the teams involved. Even the stingiest official might have no choice but to throw his flag often when working a game between sloppy teams.
This season, the NFL is selectively maneuvering individual members of crews, mostly with the purpose of ensuring experienced officials in high-profile games. But on the whole, the crews have been mostly intact this season.
The numbers in this post, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information research, include penalties that were either accepted, declined or offset. They can be even more dramatic within specific penalty groups, which I've provided a taste of in the scouting reports below:
New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams (London)
Referee: Ronald Torbert
Average penalties/game: 14.8 | NFL rank: No. 12
Scouting report: It will be interesting to see how this crew handles the potential shenanigans of Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and the notoriously aggressive Rams defense. Torbert has called a total of six penalties for taunting, roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness this season. That's the fifth fewest in the league. For context, there are eight crews that have called 10 or more such penalties. Keep in mind that, overall, the Rams entered Week 7 as the NFL's fourth-most penalized team (57 in six games).
Referee: Ed Hochuli
Average penalties/game: 18.1 | NFL rank: No. 6
Scouting report: Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whose antics cost him another $75,000 last week against the New England Patriots, better be on his best behavior. Hochuli has called an NFL-high 18 penalties for taunting, roughing the passer, unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness. That's more than four times the number of the crew with the fewest such calls, and it includes five taunting flags. (Of the 17 crews, 15 have called one or none.) In other words, Big Ed doesn't mess around. Hochuli's crew also has called the second-most number of offensive holding penalties, at 29.
Referee: Walt Coleman
Average penalties/game: 12.2 | NFL rank: No. 17
Scouting report: To date, Coleman's crew has been the least likely to throw a flag in the NFL. Its average penalties per game is some 70 percent lower than the most active crews, and the disparity is particularly noticeable in offensive holding -- where its 10 penalties are the league's second-lowest total. That's less than a third of what the most frequent crews have called. Coleman also has given defensive backs room to work, having called just 13 penalties for defensive holding, illegal contact and defensive pass interference. That's also the second-lowest in the league.
Referee: Jeff Triplette
Average penalties/game: 17 | NFL rank: No. 8
Scouting report: Here is a quirk that you might not have considered to be variable: Triplette's crew has called an NFL-high 33 pre-snap movement penalties: False starts, encroachment, offside or neutral zone infractions. You would think that this would be solely on the teams -- you either move or you don't. But when you look at the numbers, it's reasonable to think that some crews see it differently than others. There are four crews that have called fewer than 50 percent of Triplette's total. In other words, Triplette's crew has been twice as likely to call pre-snap movement as multiple others. Assignments matter.
Referee: Clete Blakeman
Average penalties/game: 17.3 | NFL rank: No. 7
Scouting report: This crew has called the second-most pre-snap movement penalties (31) after Triplette's. Of that total, an NFL-high 22 have been false starts. For the most part, though, Blakeman falls in the middle of most penalty classifications. There are not as many advantages to be gained here.
Referee: Brad Allen
Average penalties/game: 18.8 | NFL rank: No. 4
Scouting report: There have been 42 penalties called this season for illegal use of hands, and Allen's crew has called seven of them. No other crew has called more than five, and 13 have called three or fewer. While he ranks No. 4 overall in penalty frequency, keep in mind that Allen called a season-high 33 penalties in a Week 2 slopfest between the Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions. In its other four games, Allen's crew has averaged 15.25 flags per game -- a number that would put it in the lower half of the rankings.
Referee: Walt Anderson
Average penalties/game: 19 | NFL rank: No. 3
Scouting report: This could get interesting. The Jets have the NFL's second-most penalized player since 2011 on their roster, cornerback Buster Skrine. And Anderson's crew has called an NFL-high 25 penalties this season for either defensive holding, illegal contact or defensive pass interference. (Skrine has been called for six such penalties this season.) Ravens receivers might be well served to exaggerate any contact they might feel. On the other hand, this crew has called only 12 penalties for offensive holding, the second fewest in the league.
Referee: John Hussey
Average penalties/game: 18.3 | NFL rank: No. 5
Scouting report: Hussey's crew has called 25 offensive holding penalties, second most in the league. On the other hand, it has called only 13 penalties for defensive holding, illegal contact and defensive pass interference -- fewer than all but one crew. That could be a good sign for the Vikings' secondary, which has its share of physical cover men. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Terence Newman and Trae Waynes have been called for a combined 10 penalties this season in pass defense.
Referee: Jerome Boger
Average penalties/game: 20.8 | NFL rank: No. 1
Scouting report: Boger drew national attention for his 23-flag game on Monday night in Arizona, but that number was similar to his crew's work in other games this season. The frequency is especially notable in the passing game, where it has called seven offensive pass interference penalties and six for illegal contact, both tops in the league. Overall, it has called 31 penalties for either pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding. On the other hand, it is one of five crews that hasn't made a taunting call, despite a league emphasis in 2016. Overall, Boger's crew has called only four penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness or roughing the quarterback -- the fewest in the league.
Referee: Bill Vinovich
Average penalties/game: 13.1 | NFL rank: No. 16
Scouting report: Vinovich's crews are traditionally low in penalty frequency counts, and this season is no exception. His numbers are low across the board. One example: This crew is one of three that has not called a single unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in 2016.
Referee: Pete Morelli
Average penalties/game: 14.2 | NFL rank: No. 13
Scouting report: Morelli's crew has called the second-fewest penalties this season for defensive holding, illegal contact and defensive pass interference. But it has called six penalties for offensive pass interference, the second-highest total in the league. Take that for what it's worth. Overall, though, Morelli's crews are traditionally stingy with penalties.
Referee: Craig Wrolstad
Average penalties/game: 14 | NFL rank: No. 14
Scouting report: There are some fascinating numbers here. Wrolstad's crews have called only four penalties -- yes, four in six games -- for either defensive holding, illegal contact or defensive pass interference. There are three crews that have called at least 23, an obvious point for Patriots and Steelers coaches to be passing along to their defensive backs. Physical coverage should be less penalized in this game.
Referee: Terry McAulay
Average penalties/game: 14 | NFL rank: No. 15
Scouting report: McAulay has worked only two games because of a health issue he dealt with at the beginning of the season. The sample size makes it difficult to infer many trends with his crew. Here's something to keep in mind, however. The Seahawks have been called for a league-low four penalties for either defensive holding, illegal contact or defensive pass interference. The Cardinals have committed eight.
Referee: Carl Cheffers
Average penalties/game: 15.8 | NFL rank: No. 10
Scouting report: Cheffers' crew has called eight penalties for roughing the passer, taunting, unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness -- fewer than nine other crews. In other words, like Blakeman's crew, Cheffers' falls into the middle of most categories. There aren't any obvious tells here.