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Why flaggy referee Walt Anderson may not be so Saturday working Seahawks-Cowboys playoff

Then-Buffalo Bill Dan Carpenter (2) complains to referee Walt Anderson after former Seahawk Richard Sherman (25) ran into the kicker during a game in Seattle in 2016. Anderson, a 17-year veteran referee with a reputation for throwing flags, will head an all-star officiating crew on the Seahawks’ wild-card playoff game at Dallas Saturday night.
Then-Buffalo Bill Dan Carpenter (2) complains to referee Walt Anderson after former Seahawk Richard Sherman (25) ran into the kicker during a game in Seattle in 2016. Anderson, a 17-year veteran referee with a reputation for throwing flags, will head an all-star officiating crew on the Seahawks’ wild-card playoff game at Dallas Saturday night. AP

Temper some of the angst that flaggy Walt Anderson is the referee for the Seahawks’ playoff opener.

Numbers-driven Seahawks fans have been crunching mad since learning this week the NFL assigned Anderson, a 17-year veteran referee, to Saturday night’s NFC wild-card playoff game at Dallas. That’s because Anderson’s crew was one of the more penalizing ones in the league during the regular season. It called Seattle for its second-most penalty yards this season the one time it worked a Seahawks game, in October.

But in postseason games referees lead “all-star” crews, combinations of highly-rated linesmen, back judges, side judges, etc., from other crews around the league. So Anderson’s group that called an average of 17.7 penalties per game, well above the league average of 13.5 flags, isn’t going to be the one officiating Saturday night’s game.

Put another way: Anderson didn’t throw every one of those 17.7 flags per game himself.

Coach Pete Carroll told me before the Seahawks flew to Texas Thursday evening he learned this week Anderson will have only umpire Carl Paganelli with him from his regular-season crew on Saturday.

Umpires line up in the offensive backfield on the opposite side and roughly at the same depth as the referee. Umpires have as one of their first responsibilities on each play the interior offensive and defensive linemen, thus they are largely responsibile for holding calls.

Anderson’s group, with Paganelli umpiring, threw 64 offensive holding flags during the regular season. That was third-most among officiating crews in the NFL.

Oh, yes, the Seahawks know this. Their coaches and staffers scout the officiating crews and brief players on what they know about them before each game. They absolutely know entering games what each crew’s and referee’s tendencies in calling certain fouls are—including, and now especially, Anderson.

“We know the numbers,” Carroll said.

The Seahawks have had issues with holding penalties this season. They had 23, in 16 games. above the league average. Reserve guard Ethan Pocic was a memorable offender last month in Seattle’s overtime loss at San Francisco. Filling in because of D.J. Fluker’s strained hamstring, Pocic was called for holding on third downs late in regulation and in overtime. Those negated the Seahawks’ big plays for first downs and led to punts instead of potentially game-winning points..

Pocic may play Saturday night, too. Fluker is back to start at right guard. But J.R. Sweezy is questionable and likely to be a game-time decision on starting at left guard, because of a strained arch in his left foot.

Carroll said Thursday Sweezy has “a good chance” to play at Dallas.

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Anderson crew’s numbers for defensive penalties on pass coverage in the secondary are also noticeable: 48, second-most in the NFL. That was 18 for defensive holding, 22 for pass interference and eight for illegal contact. All are damaging, automatic first-down fouls that change games.

But, again, Anderson on Saturday night won’t have his regular crew members that called almost all those fouls in the secondary: back judge Lee Dyer, side judge Rick Patterson and field judge Terry Brown. So those pass-defense foul numbers aren’t exactly applicable to this playoff game, either.

Also not as applicable as it appears: the one Seahawks game Anderson and his crew officiated this season, at Detroit Oct. 28. They called seven accepted penalties on Seattle that day, for 111 yards, the second-most penalty yardage against the Seahawks this season. The only game with more was that loss at San Francisco last month, when Seattle had a team-record 148 penalty yards. The Seahawks controlled that Anderson-called Detroit game and won 28-14 with the formula that got them eight of its 10 wins this season: its league-leading rushing offense and Russell Wilson’s opportunistic passing that overcame the flags.

For the 2018 regular season the Seahawks were the 11th-most penalized team in the NFL, tied with Pittsburgh with 111 fouls against them. Their opponents were called for 108 penalties.

Dallas had the 15th-most penalties, 104. Cowboys foes had just 89 fouls this season.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.

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