Are Penalty Flags Ruining Football?

Thursday December 4th, 2014

Your eyes are not deceiving you: Flags are on the rise, and so are NFL passing attacks. Should fans care? Do fans care? Will things change? We tackle that, and we find out whether injuries are really as bad as they seem. Plus, thoughts heading into Week 14 in this week’s edition of Settle This.

As always, your input is valued (and we’re running out of good questions), so send over any queries to talkback@themmqb.com.

Hi Greg,

The rise in penalties this season due to the points of emphasis on illegal contact, holding, etc. have gone way too far in my opinion. Ticky-tack flags seem to be impacting every single game. I consider myself a pretty loyal NFL fan but the games are becoming almost unwatchable. One of my buddies is a fantasy football freak and is loving the big passing numbers posted every week. What do you think? Is there any hope for this all to come to balance somehow, or is this going to be the NFL as we know it for good?

—Charlie from Glenshaw, PA

Let’s lay out the numbers first. According to NFLpenalties.com, the average number of penalties per team has gone from to 6.08 to 6.7. Penalty yardage has gone from 52.49 to 56.07. The officials have stayed fairly consistent all season as they called an average of 13.88 penalties the first two weeks of the season, and Week 13 had a season-high 14.33. As far as the points of emphasis calls, defensive holding has increased from 0.678 per game (fifth-most called penalty) to 0.901 (third-most called infraction). Defensive pass interference has actually declined (probably as a result of holding) from 0.925 to 0.832. Offensive pass interference has risen from 0.247 to 0.387. And, finally, illegal use of hands has gone from No. 13 on the infraction list (0.281) to fifth (0.707).

Wet Blanket of Reason
 
 
Greg A. Bedard earned his u201cWet Blanket of Reasonu201d nickname for his long history of tempering rabid fan enthusiasm with cold, hard, irrefutable facts. He’ll take the same approach to settle your arguments on a weekly basis. To catch up on Settle This, CLICK HERE.
 
Email ideas for future topics to talkback@themmqb.com with the subject line 'SettleThis, or tweet at @GregABedard.
 

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As far as the effect on NFL passing games, the league is on pace to set records for yards (509.5 per game combined; 504.6 last season) and completions (44.2; 43.4 last season)—even though attempts have declined (70.2; 70.8 last season). Completion percentage (62.9; 61.2 last season) and TD-to-INT ratio (1.88; 1.62 last season), among others, are also on pace to be the highest ever.

So, yes Charlie, your eyes are not deceiving you. NFL games are being affected by penalties like never before, and they’re making life much easier for passing offenses, which makes some fantasy players happy.

What do I think about this? Personally, I think it’s terrible and it’s something that I railed against three years ago. The game has completely changed, and it has rendered the NFL record book completely meaningless. I don’t care about any historical markers anymore. Don’t tell me how many yards Andrew Luck has passed for, or how he set a record for consecutive 300-yard games. I don’t care how many touchdowns Peyton Manning has thrown. You can’t compare stats back to last season let alone 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Basically, we’re in an era that’s akin to the steroid era in baseball, only this isn’t illegal—it’s been implemented and fully endorsed by owners who only care about money and not the game. And yes, it’s cheered on by many fantasy football players.

I understand and endorse the player safety rules outside the protections granted to quarterbacks (which have become a joke). I am completely against increasing rules that favor passing offenses that, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, has set new records every year starting with the 2010 season!

[Deep breath]

That being said, Charlie, nothing is going to change. The most we can hope for is for the refs to swallow their whistles in the playoffs like they did last season, giving us a small stretch of real football (you see, most fantasy football is done by then), but that’s about it. This is the way of the NFL. People can complain on Twitter all they want about flags and games dragging on, but it’s not going to change unless people like you actually start tuning out in droves. Are you going to do that? That certainly hasn’t happened yet (ratings continue to climb), and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. What would make you, Charlie, finally say, Enough is enough, I’m done? I can’t envision that line. The owners know this, so the NFL has no incentive to change. We’re stuck with the game the way it is.

Every year it seems we hear how “this year” there seems to be more injuries than last year. But this year I believe that to be true. I've been watching & following the sport since the early 70s and I can't recall so many announcements about player injuries as I am hearing in 2014; specifically injuries that start with the descriptor “torn.” Torn ACL, torn pectoral, torn biceps. Am I right? And if I am right, why is this happening? Are players’ bodies overworked and overconditioned, underconditioned and/or are dietary “supplements” wreaking havoc with their bodies?

—Karen from Atlanta

At first blush, Karen, I figured you were right. But I wanted to be sure, so I ran the numbers. Using the same methodology that our Jenny Vrentas did when she wrote, “2013: Year of the Injury?” at this time last season, I found that that the number of players who have landed on injured reserve to this point (279) is up from last season (264). That’s up significantly from 223 in 2010.

Amazingly, the Giants have placed 18 players on injured reserve, which ties the 2012 Jaguars for most since 2010.

Early in the season, I found that the injury rate, even to star players, wasn’t that far off from the previous season. But I did talk to former Chargers team doctor David. J Chao, who had an interesting theory, which I subscribe to:

Chao has long subscribed to the “bigger, faster, stronger” theory that players are simply much bigger than they once were, and their lower bodies aren’t designed to handle that.

“No matter what you do you can’t make your foot bigger or stronger,” he said. “The base is the same. You’re planting a bigger tree in the same pot. That’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing a rise in Achilles tendon ruptures. It’s the new ACL.”

Read Jenny’s story and mine. Both have some of the theories for why major injuries are on the rise despite the new collective bargaining agreement, which limits the time spent practicing and the amount of padded practices.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images Your 2014 NFL MVP. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

NICKEL PACKAGE FOR WEEK 14

Meeting of the Minds
 
 
He revived Brett Favre, he built Aaron Rodgers and on Sunday he outdueled Bill Belichick. The Packers' victory over New England in Lambeau showed just where Mike McCarthy belongs in the hierarchy of NFL coaches. And a moment right after the game confirmed it.

FULL STORY
1. Texans DE J.J. Watt is so much better at his position than any other player is at his own (before you even contemplate that he could be a Rob Gronkowski-level tight end if he wanted to be), he would get my vote for MVP if I had one (I do not). Simply giving him Defensive Player of the Year is not enough. He deserves more. He’s the best football player, period. If that’s not most valuable, I don’t know what is.

2. Aaron Rodgers got all the accolades for the Packers’ win over the Patriots, but DE Mike Daniels should have shared the game ball. It’s vitally important, when playing Tom Brady and the Patriots, to generate pressure on Brady. So far this season, any time an opponent has pressured Brady on 30 percent of his dropbacks that opponent has at least been in the game (Patriots are 2-3 in those games, with the wins being tight victories in Foxboro over the Raiders and Jets). The Packers pressured Brady on 39.5 percent of his dropbacks, and no one generated more pressure than the underrated Daniels (half sack, four hits, two hurries) as he handled Patriots left guard Dan Connolly easily. No other Green Bay player had more than two total quarterback pressures.

3. I expect to see a shootout between the Chargers and Patriots that would pay homage to their AFL roots. San Diego has so many varied weapons, and New England has so much trouble getting pressure on the quarterback that the Chargers should move the ball well. If the Patriots get back to running the ball and using their quick passing game, I don’t see how San Diego stops them.

4. I don’t mind Mike Pettine giving starting QB Brian Hoyer another week as the starter, but I expect the hook to be very quick now. While I’m a fan of Hoyer and think the Browns’ offensive ship has been sinking for the most part since they lost center Alex Mack to injury, he hasn’t played well enough the past three games. That’s what happens when the quarterback gets sped up due to pressure applied by the defense (in Cleveland’s big win over the Bengals, Cincinnati pressured Hoyer a pathetic four times). Hoyer gets another chance to prove himself. If he doesn’t, it’s time to give Johnny Manziel, who has the ability to thrive under pressure, a chance to save the season.

5. You don’t see Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson have many days as rough as he did last week. Falcons receiver Julio Jones repeatedly beat Peterson in Atlanta’s upset of Arizona. I would hate to be Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, who will likely see a lot of Peterson on Sunday. Peterson should be out for redemption.


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