With Pats-Colts, even refs get spotlight

FOXBOROUGH -- The game won't kick off until 8:20 Sunday night, and seemingly every angle has already been dissected in what should be another great Patriots-Colts matchup.

Here is one more: the role of officiating and Scott Green's crew.

There is uneasiness in even mentioning officials before a game, as the spotlight should almost always be on the players. There will probably be a missed or controversial call along the way, but in a game where there could be 125-150 snaps between the teams, it is easy to overlook that the correct calls are made an extremely high percentage of the time.

So when the role of officiating is introduced, it is done more so with two factors in mind:

  1. 1) How challenging it is to officiate a Patriots-Colts game because of the up-tempo, chess-match, back-and-forth style in which the teams often play, making it difficult to manage the substitution aspect of the game;
    2) How teams like the Patriots and Colts prepare for games with regard to which crew is officiating.
    Referees often set the tone for a game. Earlier this year, for example, Patriots coach Bill Belichick informed his team that the crew working their game against the Ravens -- led by referee Ron Winter -- was known for calling numerous penalties, especially roughing-the-passer flags.

The scouting report came to life on the field, with running back Kevin Faulk saying it helped him perform better.

"Bill tells us about the officials every game, some of their tendencies," said Faulk, the Patriots' longest-tenured player. "The officials get scouted just like the players."

Looking ahead, one area to watch with Green's crew is personal fouls, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

Games officiated by Green this season have included 19 personal fouls, with only two other crews having a higher total. The Patriots experienced this firsthand, as Green's crew worked the 2009 season-opener against the Bills and called two roughing-the-passer penalties, against defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.

Green's crew, which has not worked a Colts game this season, has called an average of 12.6 assessed penalties per game this season. The league average is 12.3 assessed penalties.

As for the teams themselves, the Patriots are tied for 19th in the NFL in fewest accepted penalties (6.1 per game), while the Colts are tied for eighth (5.3).

The role of referees, the enforcement of rules, and the tendency of both teams to push the envelope have been notable parts of the Patriots-Colts rivalry.

Last year, for example, Belichick used one of his valuable instant-replay challenges in an attempt to catch the Colts with 12 men on the field. The challenge wouldn't have made much of a difference had it been granted (the Colts were not penalized), but it reflected how the teams place importance on every detail of game management in Patriots-Colts contests.

On the Colts side, president Bill Polian has been accused by some of using his influence on the NFL's competition committee to stress a point of emphasis on calling more defensive holding penalties. That came after the Patriots beat the Colts in the playoffs in the 2004 season, 20-3, playing physical with their receivers.

This will mark the 10th meeting between the teams since 2003, and Green's first as a referee in the series.

Only in a Patriots-Colts matchup can the assignment of a referee be such a worthy storyline.

Referee assignments in Patriots-Colts series since 2003:

  • Nov. 30, 2003 -- Bill Leavy

  • Jan. 18, 2004 -- Walt Coleman

  • Sept. 9, 2004 -- Mike Carey

  • Jan. 16, 2005 -- Bill Carollo

  • Nov. 7, 2005 -- Bernie Kukar

  • Nov. 5, 2006 -- Ron Winter

  • Jan. 21, 2007 -- Bill Carollo

  • Nov. 4, 2007 -- John Parry

  • Nov. 2, 2008 -- Bill Carollo

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.