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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Earl Thomas Says The Seahawks "Are Playing The Referees Too"

Illustration for article titled Earl Thomas Says The Seahawks Are Playing The Referees Too

The Seahawks were particularly pissed about a single call, a late-game fumble that appeared to end up in the hands of Richard Sherman but which officials were unable to overturn because no replay angle conclusively proved possession. But safety Earl Thomas's comments hinted at some more general frustration with the way Seattle games have been called this year:

"At least give us a shot. But you know what? I'm not surprised with the referees this season. If you really look at some plays, we're playing more than our opponents. We're playing the referees too. I don't care what anybody is saying. Something is wrong. That needs to be brought up."


The Seahawks are .500 now, after a wacky loss in which they dominated the Rams in every facet save for kick-ass trick plays. Thomas is frustrated, and probably—once he settles down—not willing to go so far as to say the NFL's officials have it out for Seattle. But Thomas would not be crazy or wrong to say that the league changed the way it interprets its own rulebook as a direct reaction to how the Seahawks play defense.

One of the secrets to Seattle's defensive dominance last season was that they held all the damn time. They led the league in penalties and yards off penalties, but it was brilliant: even with all those flags, they knew officials couldn't whistle every single play, no matter how badly their D-backs were mauling receivers.


Seattle mauled receivers all the way to a championship, and the NFL decided to nip that strategy in the bud before it spread. This summer, the league declared illegal contact in the secondary "a major point of emphasis," and instructed officials to crack down and call those plays by the book. If that meant a deluge of flags—and through the preseason, it did—then so be it. Teams would just have to adapt, and no team would have to change its way more than the Seahawks. It's the 'Legion of Boom' rule," Earl Thomas said at the time. "Everyone knows that."

So far this season, the Seahawks are fourth in the NFL in penalties per game, and have the league's single worst penalty differential, being flagged 51 times to their opponents' 29.

The calls don't appear to be falling heavily upon the secondary—Thomas, despite this being the second time in three games he's bitched about the zebras, hasn't been flagged yet. But that Seahawks pass defense doesn't need to be penalizes to be disproportionately affected by the threat of penalties. At the height of the controversy last year about their free-fouling ways, DC Dan Quinn repeatedly emphasized the importance of knowing "the climate of how [games are] being called." They're being called much more closely, and the Seahawks DBs are being deprived of some of their favorite tricks.


And it's showing. Seattle is allowing a solidly league-average 239 passing yards per game, way up from the NFL-best 172 passing yards per game in 2013. Opposing QBs' passer ratings are up 40.3 points this season, and completion percentages are up 9.4. QBs have found the end zone 12 times in six games, compared with 16 times all of last season.

Six games isn't much of a sample size (though three losses is sure as hell significant), but this year's version of the Seahawks secondary is unexpectedly beatable. Without much in the way of personnel changes or obvious package differences, an officiating crackdown could go a long way toward explaining the drop-off. And Earl Thomas's paranoia.

"We've got to understand who we're battling now," Thomas said. "We won everything last year. We're battling the referees now."

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