Over the course of last weekend's Wild Card round matchups, penalties per game dipped to 7.8, compared to 12.1 in the regular season. This is the third straight season we have seen penalties dip in Wild Card weekend. Last season they dipped from 12.4 to 9.8, and the season before they dipped from 12.8 to 9.8.
This actually resulted in the NFL's head of officiating, Dean Blandino, issuing a statement about penalty enforcement in the playoffs. You can view the statement at NFLCommunications.com. Blandino stated the philosophy is no different from the regular season to the postseason, and the idea is to call penalties in the same manner no matter the game. According to Blandino, the idea is to avoid ticky-tack penalties and not get overly technical in enforcement.
I could see penalties going down because you have some of the more quality football teams on the field. However, while these are the better teams in the league, it does not mean they are the least penalized. The Seattle Seahawks lead the NFL with eight penalties per game, and the Denver Broncos are fourth with 7.31 penalties per game. The 49ers are next at 16th, with 6.18 penalties per game.
Last week, Ed Hochuli's crew seemed content to "let them play" in the 49ers-Packers game. I suppose part of it might have been due to the cold, and wanting to get the game finished as quickly as humanly possible. The one credit for the crew is that they were fairly even-handed in their approach. I don't know that the 49ers offensive line did enough to take advantage of the laissez-faire approach, but the 49ers secondary certainly did benefit alongside the Packers secondary.
Today will be an interesting test of the NFL officials. The Seahawks host the Saints in the first playoff game of the day. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about Seattle's "rampant interference", and how they rely on getting away with a lot of interference. Former NFL official Mike Pereira put it best when he said, "They look at it and say, 'We may get called for one but not 10.'"
Pereira talked about how aggressive teams like the Seahawks will test the refs early to see what they can get away with in a given game. We'll see plenty of that today, but it will also be interesting to see how the 49ers approach this on Sunday against the Panthers. The 49ers-Panthers game will be about the run game as much as anything, so any holding would seem more likely to come along the line. But maybe the 49ers decide to get a little more grabby in the secondary. If the refs are going to let it go, the 49ers might as well do what they can to gain an advantage.
It is easy to complain about what Seattle gets away with, but if the refs aren't calling it, why wouldn't you take advantage of it and push the limits of the rules?