What went wrong/How to fix it: penalties

What went wrong/How to fix it: penalties
February 6, 2013, 10:00 am
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Over the next week, Redskins reporter Tarik El-Bashir will examine what went wrong in 2012 and weigh possible solutions to the issues.

Today, we’re looking at the Redskins’ penchant for penalties. 

Key players: Kory Lichtensteiger, Trent Williams, DeAngelo Hall and Logan Paulsen.

The problem: The Redskins ranked among the NFL’s most penalized teams in 2012, averaging 7.25 flags per game during the regular season.

But like the team’s record, the team showed marked improvement in the second half. Consider: the Redskins were flagged on average 8.3 times in the nine games before the bye and only 5.85 times following the week off as they made their 7-0 charge to the NFC East title.

The team's penchant for penalties reached a low point in the Week 9 loss to the one-win Panthers. They were flagged 13 times for 97 yards, negating 29 yards of offense as well as three first downs.

Coach Mike Shanahan called the rash of flags “unusual” but acknowledged that, “at the end of the day, you’ve got to be more disciplined.”

Veteran tight end Chris Cooley said flatly: “It’s about focus.”

Interestingly, the Redskins were also called for 13 penalties in their next game, a 31-6 trouncing of the Eagles. From that point on, however, the team saw a dramatic decrease in laundry on the field as the wins started to pile up. In fact, the Redskins’ most disciplined games came in their final three games – three in Philadelphia, two against Dallas and three vs. Seattle.

The potential fix: It can be argued that the problem has already been fixed, given that the Redskins achieved significant improvement over the final seven games. But the sloppiness from the first nine contests shouldn’t be totally swept under the carpet.

Penalties weren’t the only reason for the team’s season-threatening 3-6 start, but they certainly contributed to it. And if the Redskins are to avoid another slow start in 2013, they’ll need to open the season with the same level of focus and attention to detail they displayed down the stretch.

And that process begins during the offseason. Coaches and players can parse game film to identify specific issues. They also can work on fine-tuning technique to help avoid infractions such as holding and pass interference.   

But it’s not all coaching; as Cooley said, it’s also up to the individual.

Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger led the team with 12 penalties, including six false starts. According to the NFL, those infractions caused five stalled drives, which are defined as “no points scored …and no first down after penalty incurred.” For comparison’s sake, Lichtenteiger’s counterpart, Chris Chester, had two penalties all season, both false starts.

Left tackle Trent Williams, meantime, was second on the team with eight penalties, including four false starts. Williams was followed cornerback DeAngelo Hall, tight end Logan Paulsen and quarterback Robert Griffin III, each of whom had seven, according to league stats. Two of Hall’s penalties, it should be noted, were for unnecessary roughness and another was for unsportsmanlike conduct.

In all, the second half turnaround was an encouraging sign for a Redskins’ team whose aim next season will be to take the next step. The challenge now is maintaining that forward progress.