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 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Atlanta Falcons 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 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
- The offense benefited significantly from passing play penalties. They ranked fourth overall in per-game average. Mike Evans led the team in drawing the most penalties. On more than one occasion, drawing a defensive penalty was the Bucs’ best offense in 2022.
- The defense was one of the least penalized in the passing penalties category. They ranked 25th in the NFL.
- The Bucs ranked eighth in pre-snap penalties per game, and 48% of the Bucs’ total penalties were assessed on the offensive line last season.
- The offense had the fewest hard count penalties per game last season. When you play out of the shotgun and have no consistent running game, it makes it very difficult to get opposing defenses to overcommit in short-yardage situations.
- The offensive line issues in 2022 were the biggest reason Tampa Bay struggled offensively. The Bucs ranked eighth per game for offensive holding and ninth in per-game average for false starts. The combination of those two penalties compounded problems for an offense that lacked an identity and cohesiveness for much of the season.
The penalty recap mirrors the season for Tampa Bay. Some good areas but too many basic errors on a regular basis that ate away at any type of offensive rhythm on the majority of drives. Offensive line injuries were a significant reason behind these numbers.
Going forward, it’s difficult to say how the offensive penalty profile will change in 2023. The dropoff at quarterback with the departure of Tom Brady will be significant. None of the options on the roster have the ability or savvy that Brady had in manipulating defenses and getting a beneficial call at key moments of a game.
The team still has talent and can draw penalties as well as any offense in the NFL with their skill position players. The big question is who will be throwing them the ball?
The offensive line situation needs to improve for anything positive to unfold offensively. Assuming injuries aren’t as widespread for that unit as last season, the Bucs will be competitive in the NFC South.
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 Carolina Panthers?
- The Panthers ranked 21st per game for offensive holding, a 35% decrease from the previous season. The avoidance of holding calls is essential for a limited offense like Carolina and was a key reason they were able to excel with the run game in the second half of 2022.
- The defense was one of four teams to not have an illegal contact penalty assessed on them in 2022.
- The Panthers tied for seventh overall in penalties per game alongside the Patriots. They were the most penalized team in the NFC South.
- Pre-snap penalties contributed to the high penalty total. They ranked sixth overall in pre-snap penalties per game. The constant shuffling at the quarterback position likely played a part in this outcome. False start and delay of game penalties were the two areas that really need to be improved for this offense.
- The offense ranked last in the passing play penalty beneficiary stats, gaining the least amount of penalty yardage on average. To be fair, they did morph into a run-heavy team in the second half of the season. Even so, other teams that ran a similar offense fared much better compared to the Panthers.
It is not breaking news the Panthers have work to do as they head into 2023. The good news is some of last season’s penalties were the result of a chaotic situation. The slate has been wiped clean, and the Panthers landed a quality coach in Frank Reich and rookie quarterback Bryce Young, who has a high football IQ
Just that combination alone should reduce the pre-snap penalties. The reality is they need to be one of the best in this category. The offense doesn’t have the quick-strike ability to overcome the five yards incurred on pre-snap penalties.
Put simply, there needs to be improvement across the board. With Reich in charge, the likelihood of that is very good for Carolina next season.
How Did Penalties Impact the New Orleans Saints?
- The offensive line was of the least penalized for offensive holding penalties. They ranked 29th in per-game average. This is particularly impressive as the Saints battled with constant injuries on their offensive line throughout the season. There was little continuity for this unit but that should improve in 2023.
- The Saints improved dramatically over the final four games of the season, averaging just 3.25 penalties per game while conceding just 24 yards per game and going 3-1 in those contests. Compare that to their first 13 games where they averaged 6.61 penalties per game and conceded 57.3 yards per game. Those penalties contributed to a 4-9 record.
- The defense was the most penalized unit in passing play penalties based on per-game average. In short, they were terrible. They ranked in the top ten in the key categories of defensive pass interference, defensive holding, and roughing the passer.
- In addition to being one of the most penalized teams for defensive pass interference, these infractions averaged 22.3 yards. It’s difficult to win when you’re committing penalties at a high rate with such a large amount of yardage being surrendered in the process.
- The defense was also top ten ranked for unnecessary roughness and illegal use of hands penalties. When you combine all the defensive penalty mishaps in major categories, they handed opponents 11.7 yards per infraction. It’s simply too many penalties to allow, and you cannot win over the long run with statistics like this.
- Conversely, the offense was anemic as a passing penalty beneficiary, ranking last in the league in per-game penalty average. New Orleans had the largest negative discrepancy in the NFL based on for and against yardage in the passing categories.
If not for the late season finish, the grade would have been lower. The Saints obviously have work to do. Is Dennis Allen the man to fix the problem? The Raiders were not a disciplined team by any stretch of the imagination during Allen’s time as coach there.
There is enough talent on the roster to win the NFC South. They have a great home-field advantage and get a favorable schedule in 2023.
It all lines up nicely for the Saints in 2023. Only they can control their penalty issues though. If they have a repeat of 2022 they will struggle again. If they are able to eliminate some of the penalties we’ve covered, they can be a playoff team.
How Did Penalties Impact the Atlanta Falcons?
- The Falcons averaged 4.00 penalties per game for 34.94 yards, making them the least penalized team this season. Atlanta was in the lower tier in both categories last season but improved even further in 2022.
- The Falcons averaged a net gain of 1.88 penalties per game over their opponents in 2022
- The Falcons ranked 31st in pre-snap penalties with just 1.29 per game. Only Kansas City was better in this category.
- Kyle Pitts and Drake London were an above-average combination at drawing defensive penalties despite a limited passing attack from the Falcons.
- The Falcons ranked 13th in special teams penalties per game. It’s a minor penalty in the overall scheme of things, and they still ranked in the middle third of teams. To find a negative for this team we had to dig deep, and this was the category that fit.
The Falcons did a great job of limiting penalties and, despite not winning a lot, they lost only two games by double digits in 2022. The reality is this team lacked talent going into the season and was not expected to be competitive. They overachieved based on preseason expectations because they didn’t beat themselves in the majority of games despite being the less talented team on most occasions.
The Falcons did not address the quarterback position in any meaningful way this offseason and selected Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. Atlanta is telling us they plan to double down on their offensive strategy from last season.
Given their ability to avoid long-yardage situations, Robinson will have an immediate impact and provide Atlanta with a multi-purpose player to consistently move the chains.
The bottom line is this strategy worked for them in 2022. They are not going to beat themselves with silly penalties and utilize a ball-control offense that rarely plays in long-yardage situations. The Falcons won’t be an elite team, but they definitely can be competitive and potentially a playoff contender.