The Packers were penalized a league-high 118 times last season — the second-most in franchise history. That after a second-most 110 accepted penalties in 2008 and a fourth-most 113 in 2007. In Mike McCarthy's first four seasons, the Packers were penalized an average of 107.8 times per year. In penalty yardage, McCarthy's teams rank second (2007), third (2009) and fourth (2008) in franchise history.
This year's Packers are preventing a legion of officials from suffering repetitive stress disorder.
Through two games, the Packers are the third-best team in the NFL in terms of accepted penalties (eight) and fifth-best team in terms of penalty yardage (64 yards). That stands in contrast to the Eagles' and Bills' combined total of 14 penalties for 115 yards in those games.
"Anytime you go through a season," McCarthy explained on Friday, "you have an opportunity to evaluate, and you try to build off the positives and you try to create focus and emphasis through drill work and other ways on things that didn't go very well."
According to the NFL's "Officiating Department Presentations to Media and Networks" booklet, the Packers ranked:
— First in illegal contact with eight.
— First in 15-yard face masks with 10.
— Second in offensive holding with 32.
— Third in defensive holding with seven.
— Tied for third in illegal formation with five.
— Tied for fourth in defensive pass interference with nine.
Of the Packers' eight penalties this year, there is one offensive holding, one defensive holding and one pass interference among those categories.
"I think it was a point of emphasis for us I think all the way around," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. "Mike has made that a point of emphasis. We want to still play aggressive, tough, hard-nosed football but we don't want to hurt ourselves. When you give up a score, the percentage goes way up if you have a penalty-aided drive in there. The one score that we gave up, our one penalty was in the drive we gave up the score."
The defense has committed only two penalties in two games. Like Capers said, Buffalo's only touchdown was set up by Charles Woodson's pass interference. Against Philadelphia, Woodson's holding call helped the Eagles score a touchdown.
"We chart it during training camp," Capers said. "If we had a penalty, we put it up on the board every day. We try to point out that we want to play to where we eliminate mental errors and we eliminate penalties. It helps you become a more efficient football team."
The Packers were guilty of a league-worst 30 accepted penalties on special teams last year, led by 14 for holding. This year, there have been two accepted penalties but both have been 5-yarders: false start and illegal touching, which came on back-to-back punts on Sunday.
The early results in terms of penalties and production are confirmation that the extra time spent on the practice field and in the meeting rooms is working.
"We're really emphasizing playing with technique in the return game," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Monday. "And that's hands inside, moving your feet, being square on blocks. If you do those things, then you're playing within the rules of the game. You should be able to play without getting penalized."
What's most impressive about the special teams penalties is how successful the Packers' kickoff return unit has been without drawing a single flag. Kicking plays around the league routinely are filled with various kinds of illegal blocks.
"It goes back to being square on blocks and hands inside," Slocum said. "No. 1, it's the best technique to use. It covers the opponent up and it gives the returner two options — he can run to the left or the right. That's looking at it in a simple way but there's a lot of truth to that. If you're on the side and your hands are outside the frame, the referees are going to see that and they're going to make calls."
It's counterintuitive, but penalties had almost no impact on winning and losing last year. Seven of the nine most-penalized teams made the playoffs. Super Bowl champion New Orleans, however, committed the 20th-most penalties and only Jacksonville had fewer than the AFC champion Colts. In 2008, five of the eight most-penalized teams made the playoffs.
Nonetheless, while good teams can overcome a 10-yard penalty or an automatic first down, why make things more difficult?
"Penalties was obviously one of the focuses in the offseason," McCarthy said. "So, we're off to a good start."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.