|The number flags through Week 2 matches last season, but the heat is still on the replacements. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK -- The numbers say there isn't much difference in the NFL with replacement officials. Comments from players and coaches say otherwise.
As fan outrage grows over calls and non-calls, delays in doling out penalties and indecision by the replacements, statistics show strong similarities between the number of flags thrown this year by the temporary crews and last year by the guys who currently are locked out.
The NFL knows things are far from perfect -- something that could have been predicted with officials whose recent experience typically was not even at the highest college levels. But things are never perfect with the regulars, either, and the league shows no sign of being forced back to the negotiating table because of the criticism.
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"We are going to continue to do everything possible to raise the level of performance of the current officials" through training tapes, conference calls and meetings, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday.
The league does that with the regular officials, too.
One point of emphasis this week will be game control and making sure players are penalized for unnecessary actions ranging from roughness penalties to unsportsmanlike conduct.
Game control and simple professionalism by the officials have become key issues this week after complaints from a number of players.
"There's no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "We've got to get that taken care of."
Added Rams coach Jeff Fisher: "We just all hope, and I'm speaking on behalf of all 31 other head coaches, we hope they get something done. We're trusting that they will."
The Eagles' LeSean McCoy was stunned when one of the replacements told the All-Pro running back he was on the official's fantasy football team. The league prohibits its game officials from playing fantasy football.
"I'll be honest," McCoy said, "they are like fans."
What the fans seem most annoyed with is the lack of pace to games, most notably Monday night's win by the Falcons over the Broncos that dragged on past midnight. That's about the only area where, statistically, the replacements have been far inferior.
Average time of game is about six minutes longer in 2012 than in 2011, and with only one overtime game in the opening two weeks -- same as last year -- extra periods can't be blamed. More likely, the time it takes to properly administrate penalties throughout the game is the cause.
The league has a supervisor in the press box and an alternate official on the sideline to help in that area. But it's been a struggle.
"It's a combination of everything," said Fisher, who has served on the NFL's competition committee for most of his coaching career. "Most of them are not [from] Division I. They're all doing the best they can but it's a combination of everything: it's the speed, it's the differences in rules. We just hope they're able to put things together as soon as they can."
The perception seems to be flags are flying indiscriminately. And yet:
• The average number of penalties per game is down from 15.2 to 14.7.
• On player safety calls, such as roughing the passer; unnecessary roughness, including hitting defenseless players; and, face-mask or horse-collar violations, the calls are nearly even: 75 this year, 74 last.
• Instant replay reviews are way up, an increase of 16. But the percentage of reversals is way down: 23 this year out of 62 as opposed to 21 of 46 in 2011.
• Defensive pass interference and illegal contact penalties are up, but only from 48 to 51, surprising because of the hubbub raised on the airwaves about the lack of such calls.
Offensive players believe the replacements are concentrating on pass interference penalties against them, not against defensive backs. The numbers: six such calls this season to nine through two weeks last year.
"It's frustrating because I think there was no offensive pass interferences called the whole preseason, so that's kind of what they've been emphasizing," said Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, who believes he was victimized by "a terrible call" of offensive interference in a loss Sunday at Indianapolis. "It wasn't just our game but a lot of offensive pass interferences called. It just seemed like they were gunning for the offensive pass interferences this week.
"It's frustrating not knowing exactly what they are looking at, but we can't worry about that. We have to adjust to the game and be ready to go from there."
Where does the officiating situation go from here? No negotiations with the NFL Referees Association are planned, and the NFL has drawn up a schedule to use the replacements for five weeks, if necessary.
That bothers Giants defensive end Justin Tuck.
"I am not necessarily mad at the replacement officials," Tuck said. "I am more upset with the NFL for not handling this and taking care of this in due time."