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Green Bay Packers Have A Penalty Problem

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The Green Bay Packers are 6-0. By many measures, they are one of the best teams in the NFL. But through Week 6 Green Bay was also one of the top teams on a list you do not want to be on the top of: the most-flagged teams in the NFL.

The Packers have been called for 51 penalties through their first six games. That total is third-most in the NFL, behind only the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a sharp reversal from last year’s third-fewest ranking. Mike McCarthy has shown no signs of following Rex Ryan’s lead and having the Packers do push-ups to atone for their errors, but should he? Just how much more have the Packers been flagged compared to other teams? How much have the penalties hurt the Packers this season? Are the Packers particularly prone to any single type of penalty? Finally, how hard is to be successful when committing so many penalties?

The Most-Penalized Teams

Table 1 shows the teams in the league that had the most flags thrown against them this season through Week 6.

Table 1. Most-Penalized Teams, Total Through Week 6

Team Penalties
Buffalo 68
Tampa Bay 58
Green Bay 51
Baltimore 50
Cleveland 49
Oakland 49
Washington 49

A couple things to note. First, Green Bay is third, but only narrowly. They rank well behind Tampa Bay and are closer to 26th-ranked San Francisco than they are to the league-leading Bills. Second, Oakland and Tampa Bay had early bye weeks. Adjusting for bye weeks makes the Packers look somewhat better.

Table 2. Most-Penalized Teams, Per Game Through Week 6

Team Penalties/Game
Tampa Bay 11.6
Buffalo 11.3
Dallas 9.0
Oakland 9.0
Green Bay 8.5

Ranking fifth in penalties per game is not a place you want to be, but this emphasizes the Packers have not committed nearly as many infractions as other top teams. Green Bay is closer to NFC North mates Detroit and Minnesota’s fifth-fewest penalties per game than they are to Buffalo’s second-highest rate.

Further, while the Packers have been flagged for many penalties, those penalties have not resulted in many yards against them. Rex Ryan’s squad drew his ire because of all the 15-yard penalties they had been flagged for, and Buffalo led the league through Week 6 with 490 yards in penalties. New Orleans has not committed many penalties, but they have a lot of defensive pass interference calls and ranked second with 419 yards in penalties. The Packers, on the other hand, ranked just 12th in total penalty yards at 330 and 15th in penalty yards per game.

It is important not to read too much into those numbers. The penalty count is based on total penalties, while yards come just from accepted penalties. A holding penalty on a third down incompletion will be declined, just like pass interference on a long completion. We have to look at the mix of infractions the Packers have been called for to get a better picture.

Green Bay’s Penalty Mix

The Packers’ most common infraction is offensive holding, where they have been flagged 10 times this year. This is not much of a surprise. Offensive holding is the most common penalty in the league, and the most common penalty for most teams. The Packers do not even rank among the league leaders. The average team had been whistled over 8 times through Week 6, and the league-leading Bears had been penalized 15 times.

The list of most common Packers flags does not any indicate any real problem area.

Table 3. Most Common Green Bay Penalties

Penalty Count
Offensive Holding 10
Defensive Offside 4
Delay of Game 4
False Start 4
Illegal Use of Hands 4

Delay of game is the only one of those penalties where the Packers led the league, and they were tied with three other teams. Moreover, two of those delay of game penalties were intentional, taken before fourth down punts. Two unintentional delay of game penalties in six games is two more than you want, but not so bad.

You also cannot pin the penalties on a single player. The most penalized player is left tackle David Bakhtiari, flagged five times for holding or false start, but even that total is just above average and not egregious.

That is really the theme of the Packers’ penalties in general. They have been flagged a lot, more than an average team. But it is hard to see an overriding theme in their penalties. They have an above-average number of penalties on offense. They have an above-average number of penalties on defense. They have an above-average number of penalties on special teams. In no single area, however, is their total more than above average.

What It Means Going Forward

That Green Bay’s penalties are not concentrated in a single area means there is no one single fix for Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff. More likely, McCarthy will focus on players being more disciplined in their technique and life for Green Bay will be a little bit more difficult than it might be if they were penalized less frequently.

On the whole, though, penalties should not be a major issue for Green Bay. The Packers were penalized only infrequently last year. The other three teams that earned a first-round bye, though, were penalized at an above-average rate. Green Bay can take inspiration from last year’s Patriots and Seahawks, who did not let a higher penalty rate than this year’s Packers prevent them from reaching the Super Bowl.

The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Steratore will lead 7-person officiating crew for Super Bowl

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NEW YORK (AP) Referee Gene Steratore will lead the seven-person crew of on-field game officials working the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The other members of the officiating crew for the Feb. 4 game are Roy Ellison (umpire), Jerry Bergman (down judge), Byron Boston (line judge), Tom Hill (field judge), Scott Edwards (side judge) and Perry Paganelli (back judge).

The crew has 127 years of NFL officiating experience and 101 combined playoff game assignments.

Steratore entered the league in 2003 as a field judge and was promoted to referee in 2006. He has officiated 11 playoff games, including two conference championships. He was the alternate referee for the 2010 Super Bowl.

Under the NFL officiating program’s evaluation system, officials must be rated in the top tier at their position to be eligible for the Super Bowl. They must have at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.

Paul Weidner is the replay official.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL