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Ask Sam Farmer: Do NFL referees throw too many offensive holding flags?

Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, right, sits during a game against the Cardinals on Dec. 1, 2019.
The Rams’ Andrew Whitworth, right, say he finds it frustrating that the standard for what constitutes a holding penalty seems to shift from crew to crew.
(Chistian Petersen / Getty Images)

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to: sam.farmer@latimes.com

I am of the opinion that there is offensive holding and defensive pass interference on every play, and the rhythm of games is interfered with by the capricious decision of a referee to throw a flag. Does the NFL track how many flags are thrown during games, and which referees are more prone to throw a flag? And do they do anything about it?

Martin Zaehringer, Ventura

Farmer: Each week during the season, every officiating crew is evaluated by one of the league’s officiating supervisors, all former game officials. Those supervisors study every play of a given game, each requiring about 4½ hours to grade.

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The supervisors are looking for infractions that were and were not called, and selected video clips are splashed on a cinema-size screen so the entire group can discuss what should have happened. Officiating crews are downgraded for mistakes.

Even though they have lost seven of their past 10 games, the Cowboys are in better position to make the playoffs than the Rams, who face them Sunday at AT&T Stadium.

In the past, the NFL has fined officials game checks and issued suspensions because of rule misapplications, faulty judgment calls or administrative errors.

But I wanted to follow up on the statement at the beginning of your question, that holding and pass interference could be called on every offensive play. I asked Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth about this, and he finds it really frustrating that the standard for what constitutes a holding penalty seems to shift from crew to crew.

“The biggest complaint for most players right now is the gray area is just extreme,” Whitworth said. “One officiating crew calls something one way, and another calls it another. All of a sudden one week they’re just calling everything under the sun that even looks like it’s something, and then the next crew calls nothing. You’re so in a world of, man, I have no idea what the actual standard rule is. That’s where the frustration comes from.

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The Chargers could have something to say about the NFC playoffs with a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“You look at some of these offensive holdings that are called, and every week you can find something that are just not even close to something that should be called holding, and some egregious ones that aren’t. … When I first got in the league it was, ‘Hey, if your feet are beat, and your hands are outside and you’re tugging on a guy, where there’s jersey pull, then they’re going to call it.’

“Everybody understood that. Like you knew, ‘I got away with a hold there,’ or, ‘Yeah, I held that guy. That was a good call.’ And now, you could literally have your hands inside the framework, feet not beat, but the guy just makes a move like he got held, or it just looked bad to the ref because he turns around and sees that the guy fell down or something and they call stuff. To me, it makes more sense when you just make hard-cut rules.”

In short, the entire topic touches a nerve.


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