Flag Day: Penalties Display Stark Contrast

The Packers are one of the most-disciplined teams in the NFL. The same can't be said for this week's opponent. While Green Bay has become one of the least-penalized teams in the NFL, Oakland is piling up penalties at a record-setting rate — and apparently doesn't care.

While his Green Bay Packers have soared to outrageous heights during a Super Bowl season and undefeated encore, it's easy to forget the dark times during coach Mike McCarthy's tenure.

With his young team learning how to play, those Packers teams were a talented but undisciplined bunch. Of the five most-penalized teams in the history of the franchise, the 2009 squad team ranks second with 1,057 penalty yards, the 2007 team ranks fourth with 1,006 penalty yards and the 2008 team ranks fifth with 984 penalty yards. The Packers have been penalized 110 times in seven seasons. Three of those came under McCarthy: 2007, 2008 and 2009.

McCarthy, however, has flipped the script. After the 2009 team was found guilty of a league-high 119 accepted penalties (third-most in team history), McCarthy eradicated the careless play. Even with a team-record 18 penalties at Chicago in Week 3 of last season, the Packers were victimized by 78 accepted penalties — the third-best year since the inception of the 16-game season in 1978.

It's the same story this season, with the Packers second in the league in penalties (60) and penalty yardage (441). The defense ranks second in the league with 132 penalty yards and the offense is fifth with 228 penalty yards.

If the Packers had a reputation for being a sloppy, undisciplined crew, it's ancient history.

"I didn't ask anybody around the league about our reputation at that particular time," coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "We just coached the positives of our football team and that obviously wasn't one of them at the time. But you break it down, you use the film examples, no different than some of the other areas you want to improve on. It's something we continue to emphasize and the players committed to it and I think it's a big part of our success today."

That puts them in stark contrast to Sunday's opponent, the Oakland Raiders.

In the 11-year span from 2000 through 2010, the Raiders were the most-penalized team four times, finished second twice and third twice, and added fourth-, sixth- and seventh-place finishes. They led the NFL in penalties in 2010 and finished one off Green Bay's pace in 2009.

This year, they're threatening some dubious history. After being flagged 10 times for 91 yards in an ugly loss at Miami last week — their sixth game of double-digits penalties — the Raiders have been found guilty of 119 penalties for 1,027 yards. That's nine more penalties for 183 more yards than second-ranked Seattle. Moreover, the Raiders' penalty and yardage totals are more than the two cleanest teams — Green Bay and Jacksonville — combined.

That puts the Raiders on pace for 159 penalties for 1,369 yards, which would beat the record 158 penalties for 1,304 yards committed by the Chiefs in 1998.

With Richard Seymour's punch and ejection last week, the Raiders' defense has been guilty of 18 personal fouls, the most in the NFL since the Chiefs were flagged for 18 of them over the course of the entire 1998 season. In personal fouls alone, the Raiders' defense has given up twice as many penalty yards as Green Bay's defense has yielded for every infraction combined.

"When a guy gets a personal foul, that's a direct reflection (on) coaching, and it's a direct reflection to the player (not) having poise and discipline," Raiders coach Hue Jackson said recently. "We're coaching (them) to do things the right way, but sometimes it's just not going to come up that way. That's just the nature of this sport, and that's the way it is."

Like McCarthy, Jackson has local officials at practices. Still, some of it is attitude and the discipline to play within the rules. Linebacker Aaron Curry has been flagged for three personal fouls in his seven games with the team. He, it seems, doesn't understand.

"Every hit we make, they're all borderline," Curry told the Sacramento Bee. "You can call a personal foul on every play; you can call holding on every play. … It just depends on what the guys feel like calling."

That flippant attitude isn't especially helpful. The Raiders' defense has given away 42 first downs because of penalties this season. Green Bay's defense, on the other hand, has given away just 13 first downs.

Special-teams penalties are huge, too, because of the field-position swings. The Raiders have been found guilty of 18 infractions compared to eight for Green Bay.

"We try to play within the rules," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "When you get a holding call or an illegal block in the back on a return, it's so impactful because you lose the yardage that you gained, plus it's a spot foul and it's going back 10 yards from there."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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