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How the Titans were penalized in 2013

NFL Game Rewind doesn’t want me to write about Dexter McCluster’s play as a running back in 2011, so you’re getting a belated data dump post instead. Yes, following on a similar post I did for 2012, it’s a look at how the Titans were penalized in 2013.

The Titans were neither penalized a lot nor penalized a little in 2013. All told, they were flagged for 113 total infractions, or precisely once more (okay, technically .906 times more) than the average NFL team. Their 900 yards in accepted penalties against was somewhat worse, being 55 more yards than the average NFL team was penalized. Even by that less favorable light, they were still only the twelfth-most penalized team in the NFL. That is not what the Titans ideally wanted to be, given how their “let’s try as hard as we can go to 9-7 this year” plan, but I cannot get exercised over an average ranking.

The slightly more interesting story is the Titans against their opponents in terms of accepted penalties. Looking solely at enforced calls, the Titans committed 9 more penalties for 121 more yards against. That’s a bit misleading, as Titans opponents were actually flagged more often than the Titans were-114 times as opposed to that 113. The opponents just committed more penalties that were not marked off, either because there was a second defensive penalty on the same play, or because it was declined or offsetting. If I thought I had enough grounds to make a serious generalization, I would hypothesize that the Titans committed “better” penalties, or at least took greater advantage of the penalties they committed, than did their opponents. I’m not sure how I’d actually support or reject that hypothesis though, so let me stress I do not believe it.

One thing I do believe, though, is that penalties are not all bad things. Offensive holding is not called every time it occurs. Holds are not bad things. Defensive snap infraction penalties-offside, encroachment, neutral zone infraction-are often the inevitable cost of trying to get a jump on the snap count to improve their pass rush. We saw in Tennessee for years that Jeff Fisher and Jim Washburn were willing to accept a greater-than-average number of those as the cost for a better pass rush (and, yes, the Lions and Rams led the league in those in 2013). Defensive pass interference, illegal contact, and defensive holding are sometimes the cost for effective physical play in the secondary. With all those penalties, there’s a balance between playing on the wrong side of the line and not being willing to play close to the line. Like every fan, I find penalties against my team frustrating, but the dogs that don’t bark are more important. Our research at Football Outsiders has found that the penalties that are actually bad tend to be the offensive pre-snap ones, like false starts.

To get a better idea of what type of penalties the Titans committed in 2013, I will do the same thing I did last year and go through position group by position group.

Quarterbacks
Ryan Fitzpatrick-2 penalties, 10 yards (2 delay of game)
Jake Locker-2 penalties, 6 yards (2 delay of game)
Team-1 penalty, 5 yards (delay of game)

The “team” delay of game penalty was technically assigned to Brett Kern, but I’m placing it here and not assigning it to Kern because it was an intentional delay of game on fourth down to give more room to punt. Five total delay of game penalties was a pretty average number, well short of San Francisco’s league-leading 11, and an improvement over 7 (one intentional) last year. The Titans were one of 12 teams not to be called for intentional grounding.

Backs
Jackie Battle-1 penalty, 5 yards (false start)
Shonn Greene-1 penalty, 15 yards (unsportsmanlike conduct)
Chris Johnson-2 penalties, 10 yards (1 chop block, 1 illegal block)
Collin Mooney-1 penalty, 10 yards (holding-ST)

Once again, I have used the suffix “-ST” to denote penalties incurred on special teams. As I indicated last year, backs are rarely called for penalties. 2013′s numbers are actually an increase for penalties on offense against Titans backs over 2012.

Tight Ends
Craig Stevens-1 penalty, 10 yards (holding)
Taylor Thompson-1 penalty, 10 yards (holding)
Delanie Walker-7 penalties, 65 yards (4 holding, 1 illegal shift, 2 offensive pass interference)

Illegal shift is one of those penalties that is a bit of a tricky call, as it results from two players in motion and is not assigned to either player by the officials. I made my best guess as to why the motion took place. In the penalty I attributed to Walker, he made a late shift off the line of scrimmage. That would have left the Titans with only six players on the line, resulting in an illegal formation call. I believe Nate Washington thought that meant Kendall Wright should step up on the line, but didn’t, so he had to. Any of the three could have been responsible. Based on Washington’s reaction after the play was over, he really did not expect Walker to step off the line of scrimmage. The other illegal shift call came when Nate Washington shifted while Stevens was already in motion, so I attributed that one to Nate. Again, I could be wrong, but that’s my best guess.

With 11 penalties against for 85 yards, Jermaine Gresham was the league’s most-penalized tight end by both number of penalties and yardage. Oakland’s Mychal Rivera ranked second in number of penalties with 8, while Walker was the first runner-up by yards against (even ignoring the illegal shift call). He was flagged four times, twice for holding, in 2012.

Wide Receivers
Kenny Britt-5 penalties, 50 yards (1 false start, 2 holding, 1 illegal block, 1 unnecessary roughness)
Justin Hunter-1 penalty, 15 yards (unnecessary roughness)
Michael Preston-1 penalty, 6 yards (illegal block-ST)
Darius Reynaud-1 penalty, 5 yards (illegal shift)
Nate Washington-2 penalties, 10 yards (1 false start, 1 illegal shift)
Kendall Wright-2 penalties, 25 yards (1 illegal block, 1 unsportsmanlike conduct)

Wright’s unsportsmanlike conduct call was for celebration after his touchdown against the Texans in Week 2. The dogs that didn’t bark: no illegal formation penalties and no offensive pass interference penalties.

Offensive Line
Andy Levitre-7 penalties, 55 yards (3 false start, 4 holding)
Michael Roos-3 penalties, 20 yards (2 false start, 1 holding)
Brian Schwenke-1 penalty, 0 yards (illegal use of hands)
Chris Spencer-1 penalty, 10 yards (holding)
David Stewart-3 penalties, 25 yards (2 holding, 1 unnecessary roughness)
Rob Turner-4 penalties, 19 yards (3 holding, 1 personal foul)
Chance Warmack-5 penalties, 36 yards, 2 points (1 false start, 4 holding)

Penalties in the aggregate are something I can easily lose track of. Before doing this, I would have guessed the right tackle position would have been penalized more often than it actually was, based on how relatively ineffective Stewart, Mike Otto (0 penalties), and Byron Stingily (0 penalties) were. Coming off a broken leg, I would have expected Stewart to have more false start and illegal formation penalties as he tried to get a jump on outside rushers, not none of either. All of Warmack’s penalties came in the second half of the season, beginning with that holding in the end zone for a safety that proved to be the Jaguars’ eventual margin of victory.

Defensive Line
Jurrell Casey-3 penalties, 25 yards (1 horse collar tackle, 2 neutral zone infraction)
Lavar Edwards-2 penalties, 5 yards (2 offside)
Antonio Johnson-2 penalties, 10 yards (1 12 men, 1 encroachment)
Mike Martin-1 penalty, 5 yards (offside)
Derrick Morgan-1 penalty, 0 yards (offside)
Ropati Pitoitua-1 penalty, 15 yards (roughing the passer)
Kamerion Wimbley-1 penalty, 1 yard (roughing the passer)

In fairness to Mookie Johnson, the Titans actually had 13 players on the field on the 12 men call. I assigned it to him because he was farther from the sideline than Pitoitua was. How much less productive was Morgan as a rusher this year? Does his drop from 5 snap-related infractions in 2012 to just the one this season (he also drew a hold on the play to offset his mistake) relate to that? I don’t know, but whichever of Giff Smith and/or Lou Spanos will be his position coach in the new Titans defense should at least have an idea.

Linebackers
Akeem Ayers-7 penalties, 49 yards (1 face mask, 2 neutral zone infraction, 2 offside, 2 unnecessary roughness)
Zach Brown-2 penalties, 5 yards (1 defensive holding, 1 illegal contact)
Moise Fokou-4 penalties, 50 yards (1 illegal contact, 3 unnecessary roughness)
Colin McCarthy-1 penalty, 4 yards (holding-ST)

Another clean slate for Patrick Bailey, I think. There were two penalties where I couldn’t identify the offender. One was a face mask against the 49ers that could have been on Sammie Lee Hill or Colin McCarthy (or somebody else), and the other was a hold on the opening kickoff against the Chargers that went into a crowd where I wasn’t sure which player was flagged.

Ayers was a far cry from the most penalized linebacker in the league (Vontaze Burfict had 14 calls for 150 yards), but for the second consecutive season he stands out in the position group. Not included in the above tally is that the calls against him negated two interceptions.

Defensive Backs
Tommie Campbell-4 penalties, 20 yards (2 illegal block-ST, 1 illegal touching-ST, 1 out of bounds on punt-ST)
Michael Griffin-4 penalties, 40 yards (1 face mask, 1 neutral zone infraction-ST, 1 offside-ST, 1 personal foul)
Jason McCourty-2 penalties, 24 yards (1 defensive pass interference, 1 face mask)
Bernard Pollard-5 penalties, 62 yards (1 defensive pass interference, 2 personal fouls, 1 roughing the passer, 1 unsportsmanlike conduct-ST)
Coty Sensabaugh-3 penalties, 40 yards (1 defensive holding, 1 defensive pass interference, 1 illegal block-ST)
Daimion Stafford-2 penalties, 9 yards (1 false start, 1 offside)
Alterraun Verner-9 penalties, 91 yards (4 defensive holding, 4 defensive pass interference, 1 illegal block-ST)
George Wilson-2 penalties, 10 yards (1 defensive holding, 1 holding-ST)

One thing I have intentionally not done is adjust for calls that could or should have been made or should not have been made. One of Pollard’s personal foul penalties in particular, namely the one against the Broncos, stands out in that regard. It was a legal hit and should not have been called, but it was, so it ends up in this tally. If you wish, subjectively take one penalty and 15 yards off his tally, and tack 5 yards onto Verner’s tally (his defensive holding that play was declined).

Defensive backs normally see a lot of penalties, and this year was no exception. The one thing that really stands out here for me is just how absurd the Michael Griffin suspension looks. As part of the general improvement in his game in 2013, he committed a lot fewer penalties. The Rivera hit that led to his suspension was the only such hit he was penalized for all year. I’ve said plenty of critical things about Griffin’s play before and support the NFL’s crackdown on high hits, which Bernard Pollard and others rightly point out make it very difficult to play safety in the current NFL, but I wasn’t really on board with that.

Verner’s 91 penalty yards against ranked him tied for 11th in the league. The top ten was made up of Burfict, Eli Manning, and corners of varying quality, while he was tied with Brandon Browner and Gerald McCoy. That was quite a change from only one call against him last year, while Jason McCourty maintained his low-penalty play. For the curious, Ray Horton’s corners last year, Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, were both flagged a lot (10-72 and 6-95, respectively), though his Cardinals corners the year before were not and Skrine was the league’s most-flagged defensive player in 2012.

Special Teams
None

Just for completionist’s sake. The only penalty nominally assessed to a special teams player was the intentional delay of game assigned to Brett Kern I already noted.

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