Truth About Penalties

Packer Report's exclusive research has unearthed some interesting facts regarding penalties and winning. Are a whole pile of penalties really a barrier to winning games? Yes and no. Subscribers can click here to learn more.

Cleveland's Eric Mangini is 38 years old, so he's about the furthest thing from an old-school coach.

But when it comes to penalties, he uses an old-school approach. When a player commits a penalty at practice, he runs a lap. No exceptions. Even last year, when Mangini was coach of the Jets, Brett Favre had to take a hike.

"It's not designed for any other reason besides the fact that it's important," Mangini said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "And when you do something, the whole team loses. Not just you. So in that environment, I think it's good to be reminded of it because it's really important. It negates big plays, it gives the other team extra opportunities. We're far from perfect, but we've made some strides."

Coincidentally or not, the Browns' 100 penalties last year under Romeo Crennel were the ninth-most in the NFL. This year, the Browns' 29 penalties are the third-fewest in the league among the teams that have played six games. They are on pace for only 77.

Both the Packers and Browns have officials at all of their practices. Mangini, however, added Dick McKenzie, who was an official for 17 years and spent 10 years evaluating officials at the league office, to help educate the local crew of officials the team uses.

McCarthy hasn't gone so far as to make players take a lap, but they are pulled out of a drill after committing a penalty during offseason practices and training camp. That tactic apparently hasn't worked, with the Packers ranking second in the NFL in penalties per game this season after finishing second in 2008 and fourth in 2007.

All of which leads to one big question, and no, it's not whether McCarthy is taking the problem seriously enough. It's whether the penalties are even a problem.

As with every stat in the NFL, there's really no clear-cut answer.

On the surface, teams that pile up penalties by the bushel win less often than teams that consistently play within the rules.

Packer Report went through the last 10 seasons, examining the success and failure of teams based on penalties. Teams that ranked in the top five in penalties — teams that could be construed as undisciplined — posted only a .431 winning percentage. Teams that ranked in the bottom five in penalties posted a .573 winning percentage. In other words, the most-penalized teams won an average of 6.90 games per season compared to 9.17 wins for the least-penalized teams.

That's an enormous disparity, but there are other ways to look at the numbers.

In 2007 and 2008, there's practically no difference. The most-penalized teams compiled an 84-76 record compared to 87-71-2 for the least-penalized teams. This year, both the most-penalized teams (14-15) and least-penalized teams (11-16) are below .500.

Over the last 10 seasons, the two Super Bowl teams ranked practically in the middle of the league in penalties (15.6). Surprisingly, of those 20 teams, eight ranked in the top 10 for most penalties committed while only six ranked in the bottom 10 in penalties committed. Further to the extreme, five conference champions were among the five most-penalized teams compared to one conference champion among the five least-penalized teams.

Moreover, in the 43-year history of the Super Bowl, eight champions have finished among the five most-penalized teams in the league — including two teams that were flagged the most times. Incredibly, only three Super Bowl champions were among the five least-penalized teams.

How many times has the least-penalized team won the Super Bowl? Just two, the Green Bay Packers, won won Super Bowl I, and the Green Bay Packers, who won Super Bowl II. Not one since.

None of which is to say that penalties aren't important. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin certainly wouldn't go that far.

"I can only speak from an offensive standpoint, but offensively, what did we have, five or six penalties last week? That's way too many for a game," Philbin said. "I don't know that you're overblowing for a game. Minnesota, I think we had two. St. Louis, I think we had two. We had been managing it relatively well. I think we have 13 holding penalties but four on offense. We've got to do a better job, trust me. You can't have two illegal formations and three of four false starts."

That's true. The last 10 years show a big disparity in records among those that are penalized and those that play it straight. But if you're looking to win a championship, a few extra flags hardly are a barrier.

Ten years of penalties

2008

Record of five teams with most penalties: 42-38.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 42-36-2.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: Arizona, fifth-most; Pittsburgh, 12th-most.

2007

Record of five teams with most penalties: 42-38.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 45-35.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: New England, 25th-most; New York Giants, 27th-most.

2006

Record of five teams with most penalties: 34-46.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 40-40.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: Chicago, tie, fifth-most; Indianapolis, 26th-most.

2005

Record of five teams with most penalties: 29-51.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 55-25.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: Pittsburgh, 25th-most; Seattle, 30th-most.

2004

Record of five teams with most penalties: 37-43.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 53-27.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: Philadelphia, tie, fourth-most; New England, 27th-most.

2003

Record of five teams with most penalties: 31-49.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 44-36.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: Carolina, ninth-most; New England, 10th-most.

2002

Record of five teams with most penalties: 37-43.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 38-42.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: Oakland, most; Tampa Bay, eighth-most.

2001

Record of five teams with most penalties: 24-56.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 45-35.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: St. Louis, fourth-most; New England, 11th-most.

2000

Record of five teams with most penalties: 36-44.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 44-36.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: New York Giants, 12th-most; Baltimore, 20th-most.

1999

Record of five teams with most penalties: 33-47.

Record of five teams with fewest penalties: 52-28.

Penalty ranks for Super Bowl teams: St. Louis, ninth-most; Tennessee, 12th-most.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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