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Originally published January 14, 2014 at 4:42 PM | Page modified January 15, 2014 at 12:42 PM

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Will officials’ let-them-play style in playoffs favor Seahawks?

The past four years, fewer penalties have been called in the playoffs than the regular season. That could be an advantage for the Seahawks’ defensive backs, who play an aggressive, physical style.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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RENTON – Coach Pete Carroll shrugged off the idea that Seattle’s physical secondary might have an advantage in the playoffs because officials seem more inclined to swallow their flags.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be an advantage or not,” he said. “It will be equal, I’m sure.”

Which leads to the question: Are fewer penalties actually called in the playoffs?

The four wild-card games two weeks ago drew noticeable attention for their lack of penalties. Only 31 penalties were called in those four games, well below what an NFL game typically averages.

Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who also served on the league’s competition committee overseeing rules and their interpretations, called attention this week to the Green Bay-San Francisco game in the wild-card round. That game was noted for the way officials let both teams play, particularly in the secondary.

“Did you see that?” Holmgren said. “They didn’t call anything. It was ridiculous. Then the league says, ‘No, we don’t call it any different (in the playoffs).’ Come on. Please.”

The league, in fact, said exactly that last Friday. Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of officiating, addressed the issue of penalties in the playoffs after the wild-card games.

“The direction is no different than the regular season,” Blandino said on a video released on “We talk about it with our officials. We want them to call the games the same way.

“We know fouls were down last weekend, but the direction is the same. We want them to call the game the same way. All year we told our officials, ‘Don’t be overly technical.’ We don’t want to call what you’d consider ticky-tack fouls. We want to make sure the fouls are there and we’re getting flags down when they are there and not letting teams take advantage or push the envelope. That’s been the direction all year and that will continue to be the direction during the postseason.”

In the four games during the divisional round last week, penalties returned to numbers more in line with the regular season. Fifty penalties were called in the four games.

According to numbers compiled by, the average number of penalties called in the playoffs compared to the regular season has been down the past four seasons. On average, the playoffs this year have averaged about two fewer penalties per game than during the regular season.

Of course, it’s not just the volume of penalties but when and how they’re called.

The Seahawks led the league in pass-interference penalties during the regular season, and their physical, pressing style has drawn complaints before.

When asked why Seattle’s secondary wasn’t called for more pass-interference penalties in a 2012 game, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said he planned to “take that up” with the league office. This season, Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks said the Seahawks challenge the rules.

“They’re one of those teams that is willing to get a couple of (defensive holding, illegal contact or interference) penalties to be able to play the way they do,” Nicks told The New York Post. “Out of 60 snaps, they’re willing to trade three or four (penalties). They just take their chances.”

If the officials take the same let-them-play approach they deployed in the wild-card round, that could work in Seattle’s favor. But that aggressive style also comes with some risk.

“I think that’s been a big, big thing for them all year,” Holmgren said. “My concern was that in a real close game all of the sudden something you can’t control — an official — will decide, ‘OK, I better call this one.’ That’s what makes me a little nervous in a close ballgame.”

Fewer flags
During the past four seasons, including this season’s games, there have been more penalties called during the regular season than the playoffs. Penalties per game:
YearReg. season Playoffs

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or

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