2022 Penalty Analysis: Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos

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 Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos performed from a penalty perspective in 2022 and where they can improve in 2023.

Penalty Analysis for All 32 NFL Teams:

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How Did Penalties Impact the Kansas City Chiefs?

The Good

  • The Chiefs averaged 4.85 penalties per game, ranking them 28th overall in the NFL. This was their lowest average in Kansas City since Patrick Mahomes became the starter in 2018.
  • The Chiefs averaged the fewest pre-snap penalties in the NFL last season. Again, that is the best performance in this key category in the Mahomes era. The combination of a great quarterback playing ahead of the chains on the majority of downs makes life very difficult for opposing defenses.
  • The defense committed only five defensive holding and illegal contact penalties combined all season.
  • Conversely, the offense led the NFL in drawing defensive holding penalties and had a plus-12 differential as a team in this category. Both offensively and defensively, the Chiefs excelled in this penalty department.

The Bad

  • The receivers were terrible at drawing defensive pass interference penalties. They drew a total of three in 2022, benefiting on average just 8.6 yards per penalty. To put that in perspective, the Chiefs drew thirteen in their previous Super Bowl winning season, benefiting at an average of 17.6 yards per infraction.
  • The secondary led the NFL in defensive pass interference penalties with each infraction averaging 16.7 yards.
  • The line ranked tenth in per-game average for offensive holding penalties. The offensive line has consistently ranked top ten in this category since Mahomes took over. It could be partially due to Mahomes extending plays more than most quarterbacks, which can lead to these calls being made. It could also be by design. It is better to commit a 10-yard penalty than possibly give a pass rusher a clean shot at Mahomes. His well-being is more valuable than ten yards.

GRADE: A

The offense was vastly different in 2022 compared to the 2018 through 2021 versions. The penalty profile reflects that, and it was impressive. They played to their strengths and realized the offense wasn’t as dynamic as in previous seasons, offsetting a decline in defensive pass interference yardage gains with a major uptick in gains via defensive holding and illegal contact. 

This shows how versatile the Chiefs are. We could see a totally different penalty profile at the conclusion of 2023 with this team. They will adjust to the personnel they have and maximize it to the fullest. 

One thing is certain. They will continue to be in the mix for a Super Bowl with this coaching staff and core group of players.

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 Los Angeles Chargers?

The Good

  • The Chargers averaged 4.89 penalties per game, ranking them 27th overall in the NFL. On the road that average decreased to just 4.50 per game. This is particularly impressive considering the Chargers have little to no home-field advantage at SoFi Stadium, essentially playing a road game every week of the season.
  • The Chargers allowed the second-fewest penalty yards with an average of just 37.6 yards per game.
  • Josh Palmer was the best receiver at drawing defensive pass interference penalties at an impressive 20.2-yard average per penalty.

The Bad

  • The offense was lackluster in the passing play penalties category. They ranked 28th overall in yards benefited per game. Outside of the aforementioned Palmer, they don’t pressure opposing defenses enough.
  • Overall the offense benefited at an average of 12.1 yards from penalties awarded via passing plays. If we deduct the aforementioned Palmer’s contribution, that average drops significantly to just 7.8 yards per infraction. The bottom line is they need to be more efficient across the board from all skill position players in this area.
  • False starts were the one area the Chargers struggled in 2022. They did have offensive line injury issues, and that may have been a contributing factor. False starts were not a problem for them in 2021, so it may be a one-off situation for this team.

GRADE: A 

The Chargers were so disciplined they should be an A+ grade. Their lack of offensive production in generating passing play penalties was the only reason that grade did not occur. 

They need to be more vertical in the passing game. Aside from Palmer, the wide receivers and tight ends were inept at drawing large chunks of penalty yardage. 

The arrival of Kellen Moore as the new offensive coordinator should ensure significant improvement in the penalty beneficiary department based on how the Cowboys performed during his time in Dallas.

The Chargers drafted TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston with their first-round pick. He is a big receiver that can stretch the field and maybe create contact.

Overall, this is an extremely disciplined team. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley gets a lot of criticism for his game management decisions at times, justifiably so in many instances. He does deserve some credit for the discipline this team possesses.

The Chargers have the personnel to be aggressive with the play calling, and they will benefit from significantly more passing play penalties as a result. That needs to be the focus heading into 2023.

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How Did Penalties Impact the Las Vegas Raiders?

The Good

  • Davante Adams was one of the NFL’s best wide receivers at drawing defensive pass interference penalties.
  • The offense ranked fourth overall per game in automatic first down penalties. A significant reason for this was their ability to draw defensive holding and pass interference penalties.
  • The offense benefited from passing play penalties at a top-ten rate, with 85% of them coming via defensive holding and defensive pass interference on opposing defenses. These penalties resulted in an average gain of 11.75 yards for the offense.

The Bad

  • The Raiders were tied with the Broncos for the second-highest average with 6.65 penalties per game in 2022.
  • The Raiders ranked seventh in pre-snap penalties per game in 2022. Delay of game, illegal formation, and defensive too many men on the field were all significant factors in pre-snap transgressions for this team.
  • The Raiders averaged the worst net penalty yards per game in the NFL. They aren’t talented enough to be handing opponents a yardage advantage via penalties on a weekly basis
  • The Raiders were co-leaders in the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
  • The Raiders were the number one penalized team playing at home in 2022, averaging 7.13 per game. This is worth noting as Las Vegas is a destination hub for fans of opposing teams. In many games, there is an obvious crowd advantage for the visiting team. Keep this in mind for the Raiders’ first two home games in 2023 – Week 3 against the Steelers and Week 5 against the Packers. Those will essentially be home games for the visiting team at Allegiant Stadium.

GRADE: C

There were plenty of positives with offensive penalties, Josh Mcdaniels’ area of expertise, but overall the results were awful. There was a lack of discipline across the board. 

McDaniels is a good offensive coordinator, but questions remain about his ability as a head coach. His hiring was touted as bringing the efficiency and winning mentality of The Patriot Way with him, but as we touched on with our New England review, that advantage evaporated over the past few years. 

Given the current makeup of the AFC West, there is a strong likelihood the Raiders will be the least talented and most penalized team in the division next season. That’s a bad combination, and the lack of home-field advantage only compounds that problem. 

They have a lot of work to do to improve their penalty profile and in turn their chances of being a playoff team in a loaded AFC.

How Did Penalties Impact the Denver Broncos?

The Good

  • In their final two games of the season after the firing of Nathaniel Hackett, the Broncos averaged three penalties per game for 29.5 yards. With Hackett in charge over the first 15 games, the penalty average was more than double that at 7.13 per game for 61.4 yards.
  • The offense had the second-highest per-game average benefiting from passing play penalties. They ranked highly in drawing both defensive pass interference and defensive holding penalties. Those penalties resulted in an average gain of 12.5 yards.
  • Courtland Sutton was one of the best receivers at drawing defensive pass interference penalties. He was able to do this despite having far fewer targets than many of his peers in this category. The positive is these penalties averaged 20 yards. Jerry Jeudy wasn’t as effective in drawing pass interference penalties, but his average was an impressive 23 yards.

The Bad

  • The Broncos ranked third in pre-snap penalties per game with an average of 2.59.
  • The Broncos were above average being penalized in so many areas that categorizing each one would be lengthy. The bottom line is they were an absolute disaster with Hackett in charge.

GRADE: C

We have to grade the Broncos’ season on the overall numbers, not the positive finish. The C grade isn’t as bad as some other teams simply due to the fact that Denver was efficient in some key areas. 

The problem was it was a case of one step forward and two steps back with this team in 2022.

There are positives, though, and Broncos fans have to be extremely optimistic knowing Sean Payton will bring far more attention to detail in all facets of their game in 2023.

The Broncos have talent throughout the roster, but no matter how talented a team is, excessive penalties will eventually turn a potential win into a loss more often than not. That’s exactly what happened in Denver last season.

The Broncos get a huge coaching upgrade in 2023. That will translate directly to improvements in the penalty categories and in the win column.

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