Do you think you can separate the good NFL teams from the bad by looking at how much they’ve been penalized? If so, you are wrong.
It is true that few things make you, the average NFL fan, want to pull your hair out more than a stupid, unnecessary, untimely penalty. Personal fouls, offsides, false starts—they all make you want to kick a puppy.
However, not all penalties are bad. Take pass interference, for example. If a receiver is almost certainly going to walk into the end zone after making the catch, pass interference is a viable strategy that allows you to live another play.
Today we’re going to take a look at the 10 most penalized teams in the NFL in 2013 and see if there’s any correlation between success (or failure) and penalties, and the results may surprise you.
Total Penalties: 110
Penalty Yards: 925
Most Frequent: Offensive Holding (19), False Start (12), Neutral Zone Infraction (11), Unnecessary Roughness (8)
Given that they have Ndamukong Suh in the lineup, most NFL would probably expect the Detroit Lions to be at the top of list this rather than the bottom. However, the Lions' eight unnecessary roughness penalties is only slightly above the league average of 7.09, and Suh isn't even the most penalized player on the team. That honor belongs to No. 98 there, Nick Fairley. Detroit's biggest problem was actually discipline, not dirty play. They had 11 flags for neutral zone infractions, three more than any other team in the league and about seven more than the league average.
No. 1 Offender: Nick Fairley, DT
10. Detroit Lions
Total Penalties: 110
Penalty Yards: 954
Most Frequent: Offensive Holding (20), False Start (15), Defensive Holding (9), Defensive Pass Interference (9)
The Bills didn't vastly exceed the average number of penalties in any one categories, because the Bills aren't even good at messing up. They just exceeded a lot ofcategories a little bit.
No. 1 Offender: Eric Wood, C
9. Buffalo Bills
Total Penalties: 112
Penalty Yards: 1138
Most Frequent: Offensive Holding (22), False Start (19), Defensive Pass Interference (11), Unnecessary Roughness (8)
I didn't list it above because it's only their 6th-most common flag, but the Texans got flagged for roughing the passer seven times last year, while the league average is just 2.81. Only one other team in the NFL had more such flags, and yes, they're on the list.
No. 1 Offender: Derek Newton, OT
8. Houston Texans
Total Penalties: 112
Penalty Yards: 942
Most Frequent: False Start (28), Offensive Holding (16), Unnecessary Roughness (11), Personal Foul (8)
If 28 False Starts seems like a lot, that's because it is. Only one other team had this many, and the league average was just 16.56.
Of course, the Ravens were serious offenders in other categories as well. They were fourth in the league in unnecessary roughness, and second in personal fouls.
Congratulations, guys! Those are terrible penalties!
No. 1 Offender: Jimmy Smith, CB
7. Baltimore Ravens
Total Penalties: 116
Penalty Yards: 912
Most Frequent: False Start (22), Offensive Holding (22), Defensive Offside (9), Delay of Game (9)
A hefty 38% of the flags thrown against the Raiders last year were for false starts and offensive holding—so, basically, they're stupid and lazy.
And by the way, those defensive offside and delay of game numbers are inflated too. For both the Raiders had nearly twice the league average.
No. 1 Offender: Khalif Barnes, OT
6. Oakland Raiders
Total Penalties: 117
Penalty Yards: 960
Most Frequent: False Start (21), Offensive Holding (14), Delay of Game (13), Unnecessary Roughness (12)
At number five we have our first good team on the list. Their biggest problem areas? False starts, delay of games, and unnecessary roughness, which cost them a combined 317 yards. (The offensive holding total is below league average.)
No. 1 Offender: Ahmad Brooks, LB
5. San Francisco 49ers
Total Penalties: 121
Penalty Yards: 1,136
Most Frequent: Offensive Holding (25), False Start (17), Unnecessary Roughness (15), Defensive Pass Interference/Delay of Game (9)
Aaaand now we're back to bad teams. The Bucs won four games last year and were a -101 in point differential. Surely part of that has to do with the fact that they were 5th in the league in offensive holding, 1st in unnecessary roughness, and 1st in roughing the passer.
Keep up the good work, fellas.
No. 1 Offender: Gerald McCoy, DT
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Total Penalties: 123
Penalty Yards: 1,009
Most Frequent: False Start (14), Offensive Holding (13), Defensive Offside (10), Unnecessary Roughness (10)
The Rams weren't a bad team last year. They were just an average team in the best division in football without their starting quarterback. So they went 7-9, which is almost respectable under the circumstances.
However, they gave up way to many free yards. And the really weird thing is that they spread their flags out.
As you can see, the most flags they had in any category is just 14. However, the further you go down the list, the more you realize they had a lot more "rare" infractions than other teams—like nine personal fouls (lg. ave. 2.47), seven illegal use of hands (lg. ave. 2.34), and five unsportsmanlike condusts (lg. ave. 1.84).
No. 1 Offender: Janoris Jenkins, CB
3. St. Louis Rams
Total Penalties: 132
Penalty Yards: 1,128
Most Frequent: Offensive Holding (25), False Start (17), Defensive Pass Interference (11), Unnecessary Roughness (11)
I bet you didn't see this one coming, did you? The best offense in football and AFC champions are the second-most penalized team in football.
The offensive holding figure shouldn't surprise, as that's an indicator of aggression that you'll see on a number of strong offensive teams. However, they had eight illegal blocks above the waist compared to the league average of 3.13, and 11 unnecessary roughness flags compared to the league average of 7.09.
Of course, the thing with the Broncos is, their offensive is so potent that they can easily make up for a lack of discipline.
No. 1 Offender: Orlando Franklin, OT
2. Denver Broncos
Total Penalties: 152
Penalty Yards: 1,415
Most Frequent: Offensive Holding (29), False Start (28), Defensive Pass Interference (15), Unnecessary Roughness (13)
Yep, the teams that finished one and two in the league standings are one and two in penalty flags.
Of course, the Seahawks are the perfect example of how penalties aren't always a bad thing. Their pass interference total of 15, for example, is by far the highest in the league. In second is Philly with 12, then Denver and Houston with 11.
The thing is, most of the calls are probably on plays that could have gone for touchdowns against teams, and the Legion of Boom players are good enough to stick with receivers and get in their grills. Moreover, on the plays in which they did not get called for interference, almost nothing was getting through. So it worked for them.
Now, the unnecessary roughness...that they need to work on, or eventually it's going to bite them in the ass.
No. 1 Offender: Richard Sherman, CB