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 Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, and Washington Commanders 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 Philadelphia Eagles?
- The Eagles ranked 21st in penalties per-game average.
- The defense was excellent in the passing play penalties category, ranking 30th in per-game average. Perhaps even more astounding is they only surrendered 6.9 yards per penalty when they did commit an infraction. Based strictly upon penalty efficiency, the Philadelphia defense was without question the number one unit in the NFL last season.
- The most impactful of all penalty categories is defensive pass interference. The defense excelled in this category. They rarely committed the penalty, and when they did it resulted in just 8.25 yards per infraction against them.
- The offense ranked 23rd per game for offensive holding penalties.
- The offense was mid-tier at benefiting from passing play penalties. Their average was still solid though, generating 12.7 yards of field position per infraction. The volume and yardage are a little misleading as Philly was ahead in so many games they simply ran the ball or relied on short passes in the second half. The impressive part is the penalties were drawn by an array of players. It wasn’t one guy who dominated the stats.
- The offense struggled in two areas: false starts and ineligible downfield passes. We’re nitpicking with these because overall the offense was extremely efficient.
- The only category in which the defense struggled was unnecessary roughness. Again, we’re looking for something here to criticize. For a defense that was as aggressive as Philadelphia, to be one of the least penalized in the NFL is a great accomplishment.
They were extremely efficient. The unfortunate part was the season essentially ended in the Super Bowl on a defensive penalty that was a questionable call in terms of how the game had been officiated over the first 59 minutes of action.
Now it is a case of can they repeat this in 2023? They’ve lost both coordinators. How key were they in this performance? Was it good head coaching combined with a really smart group of players? This is a well-run organization and there is every reason to believe this efficiency continues next season.
The scary part for opposing teams is the offense can still improve in benefiting from passing penalties, and if the defense can repeat their 2022 performance, the Eagles will be in great shape in 2023.
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 Dallas Cowboys?
- The Cowboys improved their per-game penalty average substantially. Dallas was the No. 1 penalized team in 2021, averaging 7.83 penalties per game. That dropped to 5.95 per game in 2022. That decline resulted in a decrease of 19 penalty yards per game.
- The offense was a top-ten beneficiary of passing play penalties. Dallas ranked highly in drawing defensive pass interference, defensive holding, and illegal contact penalties. Their passing play penalties averaged a gain of 14.3 yards.
- The Cowboys had four different players draw defensive pass interference penalties. Wide receiver Michael Gallup was the standout performer, benefiting at an average of 38.5 yards per penalty.
- Despite improvement from 2021, pre-snap penalties were again an issue for the Cowboys in 2022. They ranked tenth in pre-snap penalties per game. Defensive offsides and neutral zone infraction penalties were an issue for the defensive unit last season.
- The Cowboys ranked ninth in per-game average for offensive holding penalties.
- The Cowboys tied with the Jets in averaging the second-most unnecessary roughness penalties per game in 2022.
It was a big improvement from 2021. Dallas cleaned up some things they needed to after owner Jerry Jones publicly questioned his team’s preparedness following their Wild Card loss at home to the 49ers in which Dallas committed 14 penalties to end the 2021 season.
Their offense was efficient at drawing penalties. Despite the departure of Kellen Moore, the pieces are largely in place offensively for this to continue.
The defense still commits penalties at an above-average rate, but given the defensive personnel, that may be the cost of doing business.
Micah Parsons is the unquestioned leader, and his playing style isn’t worth adjusting to save yards on an occasional penalty. The theory being if you’re too concerned about penalties you lose the edge that makes you a dominant player in the first place.
It’s a fine line to walk, but the positive reality is this Cowboys team moved in the right direction from a penalty perspective after a disastrous 2021.
How Did Penalties Impact the New York Giants?
- The offensive line ranked 31st in per-game average for offensive holding penalties. A vital component for this offense is avoiding those 10-yard penalties that stall drives. Mission accomplished in the first year of Brian Daboll’s tenure in New York.
- Similarly, the offensive line avoided excessive false start penalties, ranking 22nd in per-game average in the 2022 season. Avoiding penalties in both these categories is essential for a limited offense to succeed, and they did a great job of that in 2022.
- The defense ranked second overall in per-game passing play penalties, averaging 10.1 yards per infraction. The Giants’ 2022 averages in this category were very similar to the Ravens’ in 2020 and 2021. The common denominator here is Wink Martindale, who was the defensive coordinator for those teams. These penalties may simply be a part of his defensive approach. Whatever the reason, it is a lot of penalties to concede. The Giants were above average being penalized for defensive holding and illegal contact penalties.
- Roughing the passer is another category in the passing penalty metric. The Giants led the NFL in this category and had the largest discrepancy of any team last season with a minus-seven net loss in just this one category. We’re highlighting it out of the four categories because it really comes down to playing smart football.
This is overall a solid profile. The avoidance of offensive line penalties was key in 2022. It laid the groundwork for a limited offense to sustain drives and avoid long yardage downs.
Daboll won NFL Coach of the Year, and many factors were discussed in the media as to why he won. Penalties are not something the sports media will focus on, but there is no doubt the minimization of pre-snap and offensive holding penalties was a key factor in the Giants’ success on the offensive side of the ball.
The defensive penalties may just be part of the equation with Martindale’s blitz-heavy scheme. There is definitely room for improvement though.
The Giants have added some pieces to bolster their offensive output in 2023, but the reality is unless Daniel Jones improves dramatically, they are going to need to replicate this past season’s performance to be effective.
How Did Penalties Impact the Washington Commanders?
- The Commanders were as evenly keeled as any team this season. They weren’t great in any particular categories, generally ranked in the mid-to-late teens.
- The Commanders were in the mid-to-lower tier for offensive line penalties. Washington is similar to a number of teams in that they don’t have an explosive offense to consistently overcome long-yardage situations. They did a solid job of avoiding those drive-stalling penalties in 2022.
- The Commanders ranked 11th in per-game average as a passing play penalty beneficiary. The downside was those penalties averaged a benefit to the offense of only 8.3 yards, highlighting the lack of explosiveness on this team.
- The defense ranked third in per-game average for defensive pass interference penalties, averaging 21.7 yards per infraction. In just this one penalty category, the Commanders as a team averaged a net loss of 9.65 yards per game in 2022. Their ineffectiveness in drawing penalties on the offense combined with the defense being heavily penalized resulted in Washington handing opponents one first down per game via defensive pass interference. They aren’t talented enough to overcome this discrepancy on a weekly basis.
- The defense was the number one penalized team, along with the Saints, for illegal use of hands infractions. Not a major penalty in the grander scheme of things, but it again highlights their discipline issues on defense.
The Commanders’ penalty profile mirrors their 8-8-1 season. They aren’t bad, but they’re not threatening the top ten as a beneficiary in any category of significance on the offensive side of the ball. The reality is they probably won’t be until they solve the quarterback position.
There is a lot of room for improvement on the back end of their defense. That’s the area of concern for the Commanders from a penalty perspective
The standout area of focus is clearly the defensive secondary. Half the battle in the NFL is not beating yourself. When you add it up, Washington has generally not done that via excessive penalties, and that will serve the Commanders well in the majority of games going forward.