Officiating could play big in Falcons-Seahawks matchup


November 11, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) hauls in a pass over New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 31-27. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no question that the matchup between Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones, and the Seattle Seahawks cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman is the player vs. player matchup of the weekend. These are big receivers matching up with big receivers, and this is going to be good, hard-nosed, old-school football. It’ll be fun to watch. But it’ll be even more interesting to see just how old-school and hard-nosed the referees allow the game on the perimeter to be.

I recently heard an interesting quote from former head coach Bill Cowher. He mentioned that if the referees call pass interference often, it will certainly benefit the Falcons. If not, and the refereeing crew simply allows the game to play out, it will swing heavily towards the Seahawks.

I implore you to read this article from’s NFC West blogger Mike Sando. He has some great statistics on NFL head referees, and with what frequency they call pass interference penalties. From 2008-2010, head referee Walt Coleman, the head referee in the Atlanta-Seattle game, called 39 defensive pass interference penalties. It was not the highest, but it was certainly not the lowest. He called the 6th most in the NFL in that span. That shows that he’s not going to hesitate too much calling defensive pass interference penalties, something the Seahawks are likely to be flagged for from time to time.

That got me to thinking whether or not the Falcons were at equal likelihood to being flagged for offensive pass interference. Under Coleman’s crews, its not likely that those penalties are called. In 2010, Coleman only called 1 pass interference penalty. From 2008-1010, he only called 4 offensive pass interference penalties. Those are incredibly low numbers.

Now, those numbers are somewhat old. The 2011 and 2012 seasons have come and gone, and these aren’t updated stats. But Coleman isn’t exactly a spring chicken either; 2008 was his 21st season in the NFL as a referee. I sincerely doubt that he’s changed very much. All these numbers seem to bode in the Falcons favor. If the game gets out of hand from a physical standpoint, the penalties are likely to go against the Seahawks. And since the Falcons are very far from penalty prone, I’d say that this certainly fairs in the Falcons favor.

You can read more about the officiating crew here.