If you have been following along with this series, or even if you’ve stumbled onto this piece but have been watching the Browns all season, you already know that a HUGE problem with the team this season has been their propensity to draw penalty flags. Especially in crucial situations.
So far in 2015, the Browns are the third most penalized team (83 penalties accepted) in the league trailing only Buffalo (90) and Tampa Bay (88). They have the second most penalty yards with 743. For a comparison, Browns opponents have been flagged 72 times for 580 yards.
Perhaps the most disturbing penalty stat for the Browns is that they have the most pre-snap penalties (38) of any team in the league. Those kinds of penalties are mental errors. Illegal motion. False starts. Illegal substitution. Too many men on the field. Delay of game. In case you were wondering, the Patriots, Colts, Chiefs and Texans all have the least amount of pre-snap penalties with 15. The Steelers have 18. The Bengals have a whopping 23, a full 15 fewer than the Browns.
That’s almost 4 pre-snap penalties a game for the Browns.
But let’s break it down even further.
The Browns have the most delay of game penalties in the league with 6. They have the most false starts in the league with 17. Seventeen! That’s 1.7 per game.
A few of these penalties we can understand. No team is perfect when it comes to pre-snap penalties. But a team with this many? That’s either a lack of discipline or confusion on what a player is supposed to do on a given play.
While the offense has gotten most of the attention here so far, the defense has done their fair share to give momentum away as well.
On Sunday the Browns were right back at it, giving away momentum to the Steelers on several occasions with big penalties. In no way am I suggesting that these penalties are the sole reason that the Browns lost. They are a symptom of what’s wrong with this team.
5:05 Second Quarter: Pittsburgh 1st and 10 on CLE 49
Rookie corner Charles Gaines is flagged for pass interference, a 35-yard penalty giving the Steelers a first down in the red zone.
3:36 Second Quarter: Pittsburgh 4th and 5 on CLE 9
The Steelers are held to a field goal attempt, which they make but decide to take off the board when Armonty Bryant is flagged for “leverage” on the kick. Bryant jumped to try and block the kick, but jumped towards the Pittsburgh offensive line, allowing them to break his fall. This is not allowed when attempting to block kicks. You can jump up to try and block them, but you cannot use another player—either on your team or your opponents to land on. You must land on your feet.
The Steelers take the penalty wiping away the three points. They score a touchdown on the ensuing play because of course they do.
1:43 Second Quarter: Pittsburgh 4th and goal on CLE 1
Big Ben’s pass to Antonio Brown falls incomplete, giving the Browns the ball on downs. Except that Karlos Dansby jumped offside. The penalty gave the Steelers another chance from the one-yard line. Amazingly the extra opportunity did not result in a score and the Browns took over anyway. Still, you hate to see the leader of your defense make a mental mistake like that on the goal line.
9:30 Third Quarter: Pittsburgh 3rd and 12 on PIT 11
On a long third down play deep in Steeler territory Armonty Bryant jumped offside giving Big Ben and the Steelers a free play. Roethlisberger took advantage of the free play to throw deep down the sideline and drew a pass interference penalty from Johnson Bademosi. The penalty was for 39 yards.
On the very next play, the Browns were again flagged for pass interference, this time for 38 yards on Tramon Williams. That’s 77 yards worth of pass interference on back-to-back plays. The Steelers would kick a field goal pushing the lead to 24-3. That entire drive the Steelers threw one complete pass for 5 yards and ran once for a two yard loss. Everything else was an incompletion or a Browns penalty. Handed them three points.
1:27 Third Quarter: Cleveland 1st and goal on PIT 1
Isaiah Crowell’s touchdown run was nullified by a holding penalty on Cameron Erving. There was no questioning this penalty. It was a clear hold and right at the point of attack.
On the next play, after being backed up to the 11-yard line, Jim Dray was flagged for illegal formation backing the Browns up another 5 yards. After a sack and a couple other plays, the Browns went for it on fourth down where Manziel was picked off at the goal line.