I'd like to take a moment to answer a question posed by MHR member Baghdad. This question was posed as a comment in the last MHR Primer article. He was wondering if the allegations of cheating against McDaniels might have influenced the refereeing and increased the number of calls that went against the Broncos. He asked:
"in basketball they give the good teams alot of the calls especially if they are winning. Do you think the Broncos poor defensive performance increased the calls agains’t them like the phantom calls another blogger mentioned?"
I decided to take a look back at Denver's history in regards to penalties. Take a jump and see what was found
To answer Baghdad's question, I went to the NFL's official website and surveyed the number of penalties called against the Broncos. I decided to use the data from the last fifteen seasons. I figured that was a large enough sample to give us a reasonable picture, was a small enough sample to be easily manageable, and would give us a picture of the Broncos from the lofty heights of a 13-3 season with a playoff upset that was followed by consecutive Super Bowl victories all the way to the depths of 2010's 4-12 season. The table below offers up the following information from the last fifteen seasons:
|LMIn||the fewest number of penalties committed by any team during that season|
|LMax||the greatest number of penalties committed by any team during that season|
|LAve||the average number of penalties committed by teams during that season|
|DRec||the Broncos regular season record from that season|
|DPen||the number of penalties committed by Denver during that season|
|Rank||the Broncos relative league ranking in penalties (the larger the number the better)|
|+/=/-||whether the Broncos were above, at or below the league average|
* Denver made the playoffs
** Denver won the Super Bowl
When we look at the data, we can see that in 8 out of 15 seasons, the Broncos were at or below the league average in penalties. In 7 out of 15 seasons they were below the average. In 5 out of the 8 seasons they were at/below the average they had a winning record. In 2 out of those 8 seasons they were at .500. In only 1 of those 8 years did they have a losing record.
In 7 out of 15 seasons the Broncos were above the league average in penalties. In 4 out of those 7 seasons they had a winning record, made it to the playoffs and won two Super Bowls. In 1 of those 7 seasons they were at .500. In 2 of those 7 seasons they had a losing record.
This leaves us without an ability to draw a definitive conclusion regarding a correlation between record and penalties. Let's take a slightly different look at this topic.
We find that 5 out of 15 times, the best team in the league was above the league average in the number of penalties committed. 10 out of 15 times the best team was below the league average. 8 out of 15 times, the worst team was above the league average while 7 out of 15 times it was below the average.
About the only thing that can be drawn from this is that, in general, the team with the best record tended to draw fewer flags than the league average. Is that a case of them "getting a break" from the officials because they're good, or is it rather a case of them simply being good because they committed fewer fouls? I'm inclined to believe the latter.
The fact that nearly half of the time, the team with the worst record in the league was below the league average in assessed penalties would suggest that the referees do not tend to "pick on" teams that are playing poorly by throwing more flags on them. Let's look at the question from one more angle.
|Year||Most Pen||Team||Rec||Least Pen||Team||Rec|
In not one single case during these fifteen seasons did the team that drew the most penalties also record the worst record. Likewise, there is not a single case of the team with the best record walking away with the fewest flags. This would once again suggest that the officials do not punish the poor playing teams with more flags and award the better playing ones with fewer.
Now, I certainly do not believe that the officials are not more inclined to watch the poorly playing teams a bit more closely and are not inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the better playing teams on close calls, just as I'm reasonably certain that players with reputations for committing fouls are scrutinized a bit more closely than other players during the course of a game. As an overall general trend? I'm not convinced.
As i was looking at this data, I found myself wondering if the speed of the NFL game is one of the reasons that officials sometimes make mistakes in their call. As fans, we have the benefit of watching one or more slow motion replays of a particular play while the officials and teams are setting up for the next play. Unless there's a challenge the officials do not get that advantage. An example of this comes from the Broncos game versus the 49ers in London. During that game, the Broncos were leading 7-3 with 42 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. Orton faked a hand off to Moreno who plunged into the middle of the line. Orton then lofted a 38-yard pass to Gaffney for a touchdown. The play was brought back when Moreno was flagged for throwing a chop block. A chop block by definition is a block in which a player attempts to block a defender in the legs when that defender has already been engaged by another blocker. Slow motion replays show that Moreno moved towards the line then turned his back towards the line and tried to drop to the ground to avoid a charging linebacker. As he began this motion, Walton turned to try to block the defender who was coming unblocked through the line. However, at game speed, it certainly looks like Moreno was trying to drive his shoulder into the legs of a defender who has been engaged by Walton.
Overall, my sense -- based on this limited look -- is that playing well or playing poorly overall has had little or no correlation to the number of penalties assessed against the Broncos in particular and the league in general. I'm inclined to believe that the officials are doing the best they can given the rules that have been written and the speed of the game. So maybe next time we shouldn't be quite so quick to hurl the TV remote when an official makes a mistake.