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Could officiating be to blame for Broncos league-leading penalties?

Early-season penalty problems coincided with drawing flag-happy refs. As the refs rotate, Broncos penalties have significantly reduced.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Among the many things that have gone wrong for the Denver Broncos this year is they have drawn more than their share of flag-happy referees.

Yes, the Broncos lead the NFL with 97 penalties and 826 penalty yards. But they also rank No. 1 in beneficiary (opponents) penalty yards with 805 yards off 86 beneficiary penalties, which ranks 5th.

>Video above: Locked On Broncos Podcast.

This suggests the Broncos penalties are more directly related to the referees they draw than the way they’re coached. Look at the Broncos’ four most penalty-marred games:

*Week 1 vs. Seattle, 12 penalties, 106 yards. The referee was Clete Blakeman, whose crew is No. 1 (out of 17 referee crews) in penalties called per game.

*Week 2 vs. Houston, 13 penalties, 100 yards. The ref was Carl Cheffers, who is No. 2 in penalties called, No. 1 in penalty yards.

*Week 6 vs. Chargers, 10 penalties, 151 yards. This was the game rookie cornerback Damarri Mathis made his first NFL start and was flagged for 4 pass interference calls covering 87 yards. The Broncos drew three other major (15-yard) penalties from referee Ron Torbert’s crew, which ranks No. 11 in penalty yards – and No. 1 in picking on rookie cornerbacks.

*Week 8 vs. Jaguars, 12 penalties, 81 yards. Referee Adrian Hill is No. 8, or middle of the Ref Pack, in penalties and penalty yards.

Bill Vinovich is the ref whose crew by far calls the fewest penalties. The Broncos drew Vinovich for game 7 against the Jets and had a season-low 4 penalties for 34 yards. This can't be a coincidence.

As the refs rotate, the Broncos have significantly reduced their penalties in their 5 games (all losses) since their bye, averaging 5.4 penalties for 45 yards.

Yes, there were early growing pains for first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett and his inexperienced staff. Pre-snap penalties, delay of game on a kickoff, and a timeout to get a returner on the field to prevent a delay of game penalty are evidence of undiscipline and disorganziation. It's why Hackett brought in the wise Jerry Rosburg to help him with game-day operations.

But while it's fair to direct a proportionate share of the blame to the head coach for the Broncos' 0-5 record since the bye and 3-10 record overall, the Broncos’ penalty problem appears to be more about the luck of the (ref) draw.

For their game Sunday against the 4-9 Arizona Cardinals, the referee will be Jerome Boger, who has racked up the 4th fewest penalties and penalty yards. So it shouldn’t be a penalty-filled game between two bad teams -- but merely a game between two bad teams.



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