Raise your hand if you've seen a football player move before the snap and:
A. Draw a flag
B. Draw no flag
C. Prompt a flag against the player directly opposite of him
D. All of the above
I'm guessing most of you landed at D, for reasons you probably haven't considered. Here's the truth: One of the more surprising discrepancies among NFL officiating crews is how they see pre-snap penalties.
At first glance, false starts and defensive offside penalties wouldn't seem to be subjective. Generally speaking, it's illegal for an offensive player to move suddenly after getting into his stance. Defensive players are prohibited from "drawing" an offensive player offside with a sudden movement, and defenders also can't line up in the neutral zone between the lines.
Some teams are better at this than others, but the numbers show us that some officiating crews see a different game than others. Check out the chart, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. It shows that referee Jeff Triplette's crew has called a combined 81 such penalties -- 18 more than the next-highest crew and more than twice the amount of two others.
This type of variance surfaces on other presumably black-and-white fouls as well. Take delay of game. In these instances, officials must judge whether the snap came before, at or after the expiration of the game clock. Some are quicker on the trigger than others.
Referee John Hussey's crew leads the NFL with 16 delay-of-game calls. The crews of Bill Vinovich and Craig Wrolstad have called three apiece.
How is that possible? I spoke last week with former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira during a media tour to promote his book, "After Further Review." Pereira made clear that "some matchups between certain teams will create more fouls," but he acknowledged the obvious.
"You're going to have some officials who see things better than others," Pereira said, "which is just human nature."
In the right circumstances, these trends can manifest in important games. Triplette, for example, has been assigned the Week 16 game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. The Vikings are fighting to stay in the NFC playoff race, while the Packers can claim the NFC North title if they win their final two games.
Aaron Rodgers might be the best quarterback in the NFL at drawing defensive players offsides with his cadence, and then turning the ensuing free play into a touchdown. You can rest assured that he's well aware of Triplette and crew's sensitivity to pre-snap movement on both sides of the ball.
At the other end of the spectrum, defensive players from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens would be well advised to anticipate the snap count more aggressively than normal. Their Week 16 game has been assigned to referee John Parry's crew, which has called just 38 such penalties this season.
You might be alarmed to know high-caliber officials perceive degrees of motion so differently, but Pereira considers it a function of human nature. The NFL won't achieve consistency between crews, he said, but can expect it within them.
"If I were a coach," Pereira said, "I would say consistency is not so much that Walt Coleman's crew calls 12 of a certain kind of penalty and Jeff Triplette's crew calls 17. It would be that whatever Jeff Triplette calls in the first quarter, I want him calling the fourth quarter as well. That's the consistency that everyone should be worried about."
Let's see how it goes in Week 16.