Part of our Inside Slant package Thursday was a confirmation that NFL officials are calling considerably more "coverage penalties" this season relative to as recently as five years ago. Flags for defensive pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact have risen about 20 percent over that span.
In this post, I thought I would pass along how those figures have been distributed among the individual officiating crews this season. As we have found in other cases this season, there is a notable disparity and the numbers provide some context as teams prepare for important games with specific crew assignments.
Below, I've listed the referees whose crews have called the most and the least such combined penalties. The figures are based on an independent, manual compilation by ESPN Stats & Information based on gameday play-by-play. As you can see, the highest total is more than twice the lowest. (Note: These figures have been updated from an earlier version.)
Walt Coleman: 50
Tony Corrente: 36
John Parry: 36
Clete Blakeman: 35
Peter Morelli: 19
Ron Winter: 20
Carl Cheffers: 20
Bill Leavy/Mike Carey: 20
If the numbers reflect a consistent approach, you can expect defensive players to get more leeway in a game officiated by the crews of Morelli, Winter, Cheffers, Leavy and Carey than the other four listed. Cheffers' crew handled last Monday's game at Ford Field, which included one questionable pass interference call and another that seemed obvious but wasn't flagged.
I've tried to make clear all season that some variance should be expected. Officials are human, not robots. In addition, each team plays differently and in some cases can dictate the frequency of calls with their own style. But there is no doubt that all NFL teams keep similar track of these trends and go into each game with a working profile of the crew that will officiate.
Below is our updated referee report, which lists referee crews by the number of penalties they have called per game this season. It's important to note that penalty frequency is not a reflection of quality but can be used as a tool to anticipate a projected game flow.