Clowney's Propensity for Penalties a Potential Problem for Titans

David Boclair

Without question, Jadeveon Clowney will add a lot to the Tennessee Titans. If he decides to sign with them, that is. Then again, the same will be true if he goes to another team.

There is the athleticism. The speed. The playmaking ability. All attributes common among players taken first overall in the draft.

There are also the penalties. That’s right, penalties.

In each of the last three seasons, Clowney has been the NFL’s most penalized player on defense and one of the most penalized in the game – period (regular season and playoff games combined). All told, over that span, he has been flagged 39 times for seven different violations. The majority of them have been attempts to anticipate or beat the snap that cost his defense five yards.

The Titans have confirmed their interest in the free agent defensive end, who is the biggest name still available in 2020 and have been mentioned as a possible destination for him throughout the offseason.

However, in two seasons as head coach Mike Vrabel has preached discipline with obvious success. In 2018, Tennessee’s 82 penalties and 727 penalty yards against were the fewest in the league (both were also franchise records). Last year the Titans again were in the top 10 for least penalized clubs with 99 flags that 932 yards.

During that time, opponents have been penalized 64 times more than Tennessee. That is an average of two per game.

“It’s my charge to make sure that we’re a fundamental football team, that we’re using the proper fundamentals so that we avoid penalties during the play,” Vrabel said earlier this offseason. “But it also allows us to do our job because the talent level is so close week in and week out, that technique sometimes is going to be the determining factor in whether somebody does their job, or somebody has an advantage.”

Which brings us back to Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 and a three-time Pro Bowler who has been ranked among the NFL’s top 100 players four years running. He is No. 41 on this year’s list.

Over the past three seasons, the first of which (2017) was with Vrabel as his defensive coordinator in Houston, Clowney has been called for neutral zone infractions 16 times, offsides 11 times, roughing the passer five, holding three, face mask twice and encroachment and taunting once each (source: NFLPenalties.com). One holding call was declined. All of the rest were accepted.

Clowney cost the Seattle Seahawks yards 12 times in 2019, two more than the next most-penalized defensive player, Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett. By himself, he accounted for 9.52 percent of all the penalties marked off against Seattle. Three of the flags against him came in the divisional playoff loss to Green Bay.

In 2018, his last season with Houston, he was responsible for 12.39 percent of penalties against the Texans when he was flagged 14 times. He ranked second overall in the league that year and again was called for at least two more penalties than any other player on defense.

In 2017, he tied for second overall in the NFL with 13 violations that were 10.48 percent of Houston’s total.

“I think if you do a study on our defense if you don't give up any big plays, you don't give up any big penalties as far as like pass interference and stuff like that, most teams can't drive the ball on us, or really anybody,” safety Kevin Byard said recently. “So, I think that's going to be a big thing for us.”

Again, there is much to like about what Clowney could add to the Titans’ defense. And one thing they definitely would not appreciate.

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