Penalties are an under-discussed aspect of NFL success and failure. Average teams can become playoff contenders with good discipline, and good teams can become great simply by winning the penalty battle.
Let’s look at how the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets performed from a penalty perspective in 2022 and where they can improve in 2023.
Penalty Analysis for All 32 NFL Teams:
How Did Penalties Impact the Buffalo Bills?
- The Bills averaged their fewest penalties per game in the Sean McDermott–Josh Allen era in 2022. That said, they were still in the top half of the NFL, ranking 13th in penalties per game and 13th overall in pre-snap penalties per game.
- Buffalo was regularly one of the most penalized teams for roughing the passer prior to last season. They were one of the least penalized teams in 2022.
- Buffalo ranked 16th in per-game average drawing defensive pass interference penalties and 23rd per game drawing defensive holding penalties First-round pick Dalton Kincaid will be a major addition to the passing game and should help this team improve as a defensive holding penalty beneficiary in those intermediate routes.
- The offense averaged 12.3 yards via passing play penalties. A solid average, but there simply was no consistency in benefitting from these calls. Their ability to draw penalties and maximize yardage was lackluster. Improvement is needed in 2023.
- Defensive holding was again an issue for the Buffalo defense in 2022. Offside penalties also hurt them. The Bills ranked second overall in both categories.
There is room for improvement. The Bills’ penalty profile is a microcosm of their team and season. They are talented but at times undisciplined. Their whole approach feels a little disorganized, and it contributes to them underachieving.
The Bills have a defensive head coach, and yet they commit too many unnecessary defensive penalties. The offense does not generate nearly enough big passing play penalties on opposing defenses.
Ultimately the penalty mishaps and lack of attention to detail fall on the head coach. McDermott has done a solid job at Buffalo, but the penalty errors and lack of focus continue to hamper this team.
More attention to detail is required for the Bills to take that next step, especially in games versus elite and more disciplined teams like Cincinnati and Kansas City.
These insights are an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 500+ page book “2023 Football Preview” which is now available for download.
In the book, you can find comprehensive penalty analysis for all 32 NFL teams from Joe Gibbs.
How Did Penalties Impact the Miami Dolphins?
- The offensive line was one of the least penalized for offensive holding.
- Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were an upper-tier WR duo in drawing defensive pass interference penalties in 2022. These penalties benefited the offense at an average of 25.1 yards per infraction, an exceptional performance.
- The offense overall excelled in drawing yardage via passing play penalties. They averaged 15.5 yards per penalty, one of the best in the NFL. With Mike McDaniel’s system and speed guys at key positions, there is no reason to believe this won’t continue next season.
- Pre-snap penalties were a major problem for the Dolphins, who averaged the fourth-highest per game. A combination of false start, delay of game, and illegal shift penalties were problematic. Given the Dolphins’ quick strike ability, these penalties are not as impactful as they would be on a less talented offensive outfit.
- The Dolphins were penalized at a far higher rate on the road in 2022, averaging 7.3 penalties per game. That was fourth overall in the NFL. Miami catches a break in 2023 with only seven true road games on their 17-game schedule.
- The defense averaged the fourth most defensive pass interference penalties per game. Only 20% of these penalties occurred in home games.
Miami has work to do, but there are a lot of positives to take into the 2023 season. The team dealt with quarterback issues throughout the season that likely contributed to pre-snap penalty issues. Despite this, the Dolphins still made the playoffs.
Defensive pass interference is really the area that needs addressing. Miami acquired Jalen Ramsey from the Rams to bolster the secondary. Ramsey didn’t have a great 2022 by his standards, but he still committed only three defensive pass interference penalties at an average of six yards per infringement.
Aside from that, the Dolphins weren’t awful in any particular penalty category. It was a combination of too many basic errors across the board.
That comes down to attention to detail, and they should improve next season, especially if Tua Tagovailoa can stay healthy. This offense puts a lot of stress on opposing defenses when it is clicking, and the penalty averages reflect that. Expect the offense to be one of the big penalty beneficiaries again in 2023.
How Did Penalties Impact the New England Patriots?
- The Patriots were among the least penalized teams for defensive pass interference and were solid overall in avoiding passing play penalties, ranking 17th per game last season.
- The Patriots committed only one offsides penalty the entire season. This is one of the easiest penalties to avoid, and Bill Belichick clearly makes it a point of emphasis.
- The Patriots and Panthers tied for the seventh-highest penalty average per game in 2022.
- Only four times since the 2010 season have the Patriots had a negative net penalty yards per-game average. Two of those seasons occurred in the last two years.
- The Patriots averaged the 10th-most pre-snap penalties per game. The New England offense was largely responsible for this poor performance. The offense was top five in intentional grounding and delay of game infractions.
- The offense was below their per-game average over the past 15 seasons in benefitting from the key passing play penalties. In the four passing play categories, the offense benefitted at an average of 10.6 yards per infraction.
- The offense was one of the worst in the NFL at drawing hard count penalties.
A key element of The Patriot Way is not beating yourself. New England finished on the right side of the penalty count more often than their opponents in almost every season for 20 years. That advantage is gone now.
The Patriots’ offensive penalty profile was woeful in 2022 with too many pre-snap penalties. They simply did not have the talent to overcome these mistakes.
With Matt Patricia gone as offensive coordinator, it will be addition by subtraction for the Patriots. The offense should be more disciplined and, frankly, it needs to be.
Defensively the Patriots were very good. If we were grading individual units they would be an A grade. The offense is the issue for this team.
New England needs to be one of the least penalized teams in 2023 to win games versus superior opponents and have a shot at making the playoffs.
How Did Penalties Impact the New York Jets?
- The defense was one of the least penalized in two key penalty categories: defensive holding and defensive pass interference. Despite the low volume of defensive pass interference penalties committed, the Jets averaged 25.3 yards per infraction in this category. That’s far too high and needs to be reduced significantly.
- The Jets were excellent in home games, averaging just 4.25 penalties per game in 2022.
- Jets rookie WR Garrett Wilson was one of the best in the NFL at drawing defensive pass interference penalties. That is a positive going forward with Aaron Rodgers joining the team. Some players have a knack for drawing contact. Wilson is one of them.
- The Jets committed too many dumb penalties. They ranked in the top five for both roughing the passer and unnecessary roughness penalties last season.
- The Jets averaged 6.3 penalties per game on the road, ranking them eighth overall in this category.
- The offense was dismal at benefiting from passing play penalties, ranking 30th overall in total beneficiary yards. Outside of the aforementioned Wilson, it was anemic.
- The Jets were the only team in 2022 to not benefit from a roughing the passer penalty. It may be a lack of respect from officials, that’s difficult to say for certain. Rodgers has been the beneficiary of an average of four roughing penalties per season over the past four, so expect the Jets to get some calls with him at QB in 2023.
It is a mixed bag for the Jets, who were very good in the defensive secondary but offset that with overall undisciplined defensive play throughout the season. The offense was simply terrible and the primary reason for this grade.
The Jets have ample offensive talent, and Rodgers can be the catalyst for this team to be a big mover upwards as a passing play penalty beneficiary in 2023. Their 2022 grade is justified, but with more attention to detail on certain defensive penalties, the Jets can improve dramatically as a team in 2023.
The Jets also benefit from nine home games this season. If they can continue at or near that 4.25 penalty per-game average at MetLife Stadium, it will provide an advantage versus the Bills, Chiefs, and Eagles in the early season schedule.