Shining a Light on NFL Penalties

penalties_large

Here's a fun little fact: Since the first week of the 2000 season, there have been roughly 50,064 penalties called in the NFL with a total of over 352,500 penalty yards being assessed in the process.

That's no small number and it adds up to a huge impact on hundreds of game outcomes.

All penalties are not created equal; however, and the aim of some software apps that we currently have brewing is to show their impact on the game of American Football from all angles: team totals; player totals and finally, trends against the point spread.

One particular trend that we've come across that helps to illustrate the power of penalties goes like this:

Teams that average MORE Pass Completions per Game than their current opponent. And, that also have a higher Penalty Yards Against Average are a brutal 121-220 ATS (Against the Spread) since 2000 when they are also facing a team with a losing record ATS in the following week.

That's pretty intersting stuff; however, things get even more interesting when penalties are separated into distinct categories from which even more intensive analysis can be done.

Over the past few seasons, we've come up with the following 7 categories that account for 99.6% of all flags thrown in the NFL.

#1 False Start Penalties (Offense)

This is one of the most common of all penalty calls and deserves it's very own category

#2 Offensive Holding Penalties

This category consists mostly of holding calls on the Offensive Line.

Most common flags: Offensive Holding, Offensive Pass Interference & Illegal Use of Hands.

#3 Playbook Execution Penalties

This is my favourite category. These tend to occur more often at the start of the season, and, against teams that try and skimp on headsets for the coaching staff (had you going there, right?).

Most common flags: Illegal Formations, Passes, Substitutions, Procedures and Motion; Intentional Grounding, 12 On Field, Delay of Game.

#4 Defensive Line Penalties

It's all about the timing. And, not drinking excessive amounts of caffeine too close to game time.

Most common flags: Defensive Offside, Encroachment, Neutral Zone Infractions.

#5 Defensive Secondary Penalties

Cornerbacks and Safeties have a tough job, but, some just do it better than others.

Most common flags: Defensive Holding, Defensive Pass Interference, Illegal Contact & Use of Hands.

#6 Dumb Penalties

Teams that are overly aggressive on defense (I'm looking at you Ravens) are more likely to draw these types of flags. Emotion aside, some of these really are just plain stupid.

Most common flags: Taunting, Roughing the Passer/Kicker, Face Masks, Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

#7 Poor Fundamentals

This is a category of penalties where the quality of a team's defensive coach and staff can be measured. Some like tripping, border on dumb. But, if you need to trip someone in the first place it's usually because you're not doing your job very well.

Most common flags: Illegal Blocks, Crackbacks, Tripping, Horsecollars, Clipping.

Here is our list shown in a handy table, revealing the actual number of penalties for each category and the average yards-per-call.

Category #Flags Yards Avg
False Starts 9,363 45,890 4.90
Offensive Holding 10,842 85,514 7.89
Playbook Execution 6,652 28,477 4.28
Defensive Line 5,662 22,126 3.91
Defensive Secondary 7,506 61,916 8.25
Dumb/Aggressive 7,343 85,067 11.58
Poor Fundamentals 2,493 22,442 9.00

Now, this table really just represents the tip of the iceberg with regards to how deep we can go with these stats. We will run a couple of more installments in this particular series in the weeks to come. Be sure to check back then!

The Archives

Trend Talk: The Impact of 'Big Rush' Yardage.
  • Apr 7th, 2013
Rushing Play Picture

It goes without saying that not all Rushing Yards are created equal. I'm not necessarily talking about 'garbage-time' yardage — gains made in the waning moments of games whose outcomes are no longer in question. No, I am actually referring to a separation of [...]

Shining a Light on NFL Penalties
  • Mar 29th, 2013
Penalty Flag Picture

Here's a fun little fact: Since the first week of the 2000 season, there have been roughly 50,064 penalties called in the NFL with a total of over 352,500 penalty yards being assessed in the process. That's no small number and it adds up to a huge impact on hundreds of [...]

Contact Us

  • Awww c'mon, don't be shy.

  • Hmmm, that doesn't look quite right.

  • Hey, what about your message!