Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Refs Love The Eagles -- Seriously

Let's All Love Us Some Referees
In the last two home games, both wins against teams with winning records, my Philadelphia Eagles have done something I've never seen them do, or at the very least, do not remember seeing them do, in 35+ years of fandom where I've almost never missed a game.

Got absolutely critical, and fairly iffy, calls from the refs when they absolutely needed them.

In the Arizona game, DPI isn't called on the final meaningful play of the game against the defense. It's made all the more startling because they got that call on offense just a few minutes before, and the law of such things is that get-even calls almost always happen. Arizona spends the final seconds flipping out on the refs, probably with cause.

In the Detroit game, Ndamukong Suh is called for defensive holding in a play where, really, defensive holding is impossible, or at the very least, unprecedented. The call reverses a missed 2-point conversion, leading to a made play, which was all kinds of important at the time. There was also a terrible roughing the passer call against Nick Fairley to continue a drive, leading to another touchdown.

Here's the numbers for those two games. The Detroit game is peculiarly striking.

Lions: 9 flags for 48 yards
Eagles: 1 for 5

The Cardinals game is deceptive, since Arizona's were killshots. (To be fair, the Eagles also had a punt return called back on something pretty borderline, but that happens.)

Cardinals: 6 for 55
Eagles: 5 for 48

For the year, the Eagles have been flagged 78 times, which ranks 13th in the league... but they've been the beneficiary of 100 flags by their opponents. That's the second most in the league, behind only Baltimore's 101. But since the Ravens have been flagged 90 times, the net margin is well on the side of the Birds.

So, who are the biggest beneficiaries of referee favor? You're going to be surprised. If you don't have a brain in your head, or working eyes and ears...

New England: +34
Indianapolis: +29
Miami: +26
Philadelphia: +24
Minnesota: +21
Arizona: +18

And the worst? Proof that you don't have to be loved by the men in stripes to be good. And also a potential moment for hope in the playoffs.

Seattle: -30
Cincinnati: -26
Tampa: -25
Oakland: -22
Detroit: -18

By the way, teams are pretty consistent on this from year to year, since one of the small hallmarks of a good defense is the willingness to be over-aggressive and penalized. If you give up 5 yards here and there on third and absurdly long for the edge of bum rushing a QB into oblivion, that's a very fair tradeoff.

Now, being a net winner on flags is not a new development for the Eagles, as they were on the positive side of the ledger in 2012 and 2011. (And the worst in the league in 2010, and below par in 2009.) But never as positive as this year, at least not in the last five years. (Full disclosure: I found stats at a site called, which, while handy, only goes back that far.)

This also might not be a good thing. After all, some of this is probably luck, and the Patriots and Colts owe their won-loss record more to escapes than football dominance. I have the sense that a commonality among playoff flops are "soft" teams that got there with referee help that disappeared when better crews and more officiating scrutiny enters the building.

But in the meantime, Eagle Nation, your eyes are not deceiving you. The team has gotten the better of things from the refs all year. Which leads you to wonder... why? Well, I've got a handful of theories that are far more fun than Small Sample Size / Random Chance / It Will All Balance Out And You Are A Horrible, Horrible Jinx For Noticing.

1) Tempo.

Chip Kelly's offense is moving so quickly, it takes everyone a bit off guard. Seriously, it's even more apparent when you are in the stadium; it's just disruptive to be going this fast all the damned time. I have no doubt that some stuff gets swept under the rug with speed.

2) Innovation.

Refs are, by their very nature, guys that have spent a ton of time with the rule book. When you do something new that's not against it, I think that they think that's kind of neat, and give you the benefit of the doubt, rather than look like they've been caught unaware that, say, Lane Johnson can line up out wide and do a pre-snap haka.

3) Kelly.

Dude is just plain funny in his press conferences, and seems to be having fun out there. Again, I suspect that refs are amused by this. Also, it took him forever to get to the NFL, so while I'm sure he's a raging egomaniac (all head coaches are raging egomaniacs), he's old enough to know how to hide it. Or, at least, better than most.

4) Low company.

This year, the Eagles have played 6 of the top 14 most penalized teams in the NFL (Tampa, Denver, Oakland, Detroit, Dallas and Kansas City). This week's game against Minnesota will be their first against a team in the bottom 6. (The least penalized team, with the fewest penalty yards? Miami. Seriously, getting rid of Richie Incognito is their Get Out Of Flags card. Also, their offensive line is so bad, they don't even get close enough to hold. But I digress..)

If the trend of benefiting from the refs keeps up in the Viking and Bear games, maybe we're moving past random chance. But the sheer luck of looking better than your opponent has been on their side all year. (Also, I can't help but think that refs punish the fake injury nonsense that some defenses pull against tempo work.)

5) A relative lack of loudmouths and cheap shot artists.

Quick, name me the biggest show offs and bad guys n the Eagles. DeSean Jackson? Dude is a smurf who, ever since the Blur offense came to town, spends his time handing the ball back to the ref after the whistle, rather than posturing or coming up with disastrous premature touchdown celebrations. LeSean McCoy, especially with his beefs with the Giants over the years? See DJ. Riley Cooper? Not to put too fine a point on it, but most refs are white and probably don't care at all about what he said in pre-season and off the field. Cary Williams? Well, OK, but every NFL team has a protesting CB on it.

No, the biggest targets of opponent and/or fan ire in the past few years -- Kurt Coleman, Michael Vick, Jason Avant -- just don't see the field very much any more. Other bad actors (Jason Babin is the name that leaped into my mind, along with King Dunlap) just aren't here any more. And the way the team has been built, with speed over power and relatively few character risks, has pushed them in this direction as well.

So that's one more piece to the puzzle of how a team in year one of a new coach, with most of the roster holdover from a 4-12 tire fire, is now 8-5, the hottest team in the NFL with a 5-game winning streak, leading their division, and better than even money to host a playoff game.

And if they advance deep enough in the playoffs to face that fearsome Seahawk team and home field?

Well, maybe the refs will save them.

And for once, isn't it nice to hear some other fan base cry out about how they wuz robbed?


snd_dsgnr said...

As I mentioned in the other thread I thought the roughing call on Fairley was atrocious. If that isn't a clean hit then I'm not sure what a clean hit even looks like anymore.

Just for the record though, I wasn't suggesting that was the reason the Eagles won. The Eagles won because the Lions had no answer for McCoy down the stretch.

In any case, here's to hoping you guys beat out the Cowboys for the division. Seeing Dallas fans disappointed is all I have left this season.

DMtShooter said...

Agreed, and part of the inspiration for the post. Appreciate the patronage.

I'm sure that Football Outsiders have probably already covered this, but it's an interesting phenomenon to me that good defenses are penalized more than bad ones. Similar experience in the NBA. If Fox and all of these people wanted to give their Ref On Call guy some play, I'd ask them why that is, rather than just have them blather on about the same replay everyone is already watching.

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