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
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
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
|Delay of Game||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.