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 Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans 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 Jacksonville Jaguars?
- Jacksonville averaged the seventh-fewest penalty yards per game at just 39.16 yards.
- The Jaguars were one of the biggest beneficiaries of automatic first down penalties in 2022. They ranked seventh overall on a per-game basis.
- The offense also ranked seventh overall per game benefiting from passing play penalties. Drawing defensive holding and illegal contact penalties was their strong point.
- The offensive line ranked 30th in committing offensive holding on a per-game basis.
- Despite the offensive efficiency in drawing passing play penalties, those penalties averaged just 7.1 yards per call. To put that in perspective, their AFC South rival Titans averaged 7.7 yards per penalty in this category.
- The offense drew a combined six defensive pass interference penalties in 2022. That is not good. The positive for Jacksonville is they acquired Calvin Ridley in what could be a steal of a trade with Atlanta. Ridley averaged almost four defensive pass interference penalties himself in 2020 and again in 2021. These penalties netted an average gain of 17.1 yards.
- Defensive holding was the primary problem for the defense, ranking sixth overall per game.
- The Jaguars were above league average being penalized in a number of categories. Aside from defensive holding, no particular area was of major concern, but there is room to clean up some avoidable penalties.
This could have been a B+ grade, but they are a young team with a new coach who really put it together down the stretch in lowering their per-game penalty average.
The offensive penalty ranking is already solid, and the Jaguars don’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver yet. This team is already playoff-caliber and efficient in key short-yardage situations.
The Jaguars are the most disciplined and talented team in this division. Trevor Lawrence will become more adept at manipulating defenses and their offensive penalty profile will improve even further in 2023 with the addition of Ridley to the offense.
Barring something unforeseen, the Jaguars are going to be the team to beat in the AFC South for quite some time.
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 Tennessee Titans?
- The Titans were effective at drawing hard count penalties in 2022, ranking second overall per game. Having a dominant running back like Derrick Henry helps in those short-yardage situations, where defenses jump early in order to stop the more than likely first down.
- The Titans had their worst season in the Mike Vrabel era, averaging 6.53 penalties per game. That had them ranked fifth overall in 2022. In terms of penalty yardage, the Titans ranked second in the NFL, allowing 56.29 yards per game.
- The defense allowed the fifth-highest penalty yards per game. They were above average in roughing the passer, illegal contact, and defensive pass interference penalties. They surrendered 22.6 yards of field position to opponents on average with each pass interference penalty in 2022.
- The offensive line was among the top five most penalized units per game for both offensive holding and false starts. This offense is not built to overcome those five and 10-yard penalties.
- The Titans led the NFL in offsides penalties.
Looking at this profile, it is a minor miracle the Titans were in playoff contention in Week 18 versus the Jaguars. The silver lining is Tennessee was in contention in spite of an atrocious penalty situation.
Secondly, Vrabel’s teams have never been this bad previously, and this 2022 penalty debacle may be a one-off occurrence.
There is room for a lot of improvement across the board in 2023, but especially around the line of scrimmage.
Personnel wise, Tennessee does not have the outside weapons to rank highly as a passing play penalty beneficiary next season. Despite that, just cutting down on the false starts and offsides penalties would make a huge difference for this team.
The Titans received one of the lowest grades among the 32 teams but get the benefit of the doubt going into 2023. Vrabel is one of the better coaches in the NFL, and his teams have been solid during his tenure in Tennessee. History says they will improve significantly next season.
How Did Penalties Impact the Indianapolis Colts?
- The Colts were very good at home, averaging just 4.38 penalties per game.
- The Colts also fared well in avoiding pre-snap penalties. They averaged just 1.6 pre-snap penalties per game, good for 26th overall in the NFL.
- The offensive line averaged their fewest offensive holding penalties per game over the past five seasons.
- The defense averaged the sixth-most penalties per game in the passing penalties category, and 85% of those penalties came via defensive holding and defensive pass interference. On average, the Colts handed opponents 22.5 yards of field position on pass interference infractions.
- Conversely, the offense was inept, ranking 29th overall in benefitting from passing penalties. They ranked very poorly at drawing defensive pass interference, illegal contact, and roughing the passer penalties. When they did draw beneficial penalties it was for an average of 10.1 yards.
- The defense committed 1.4 automatic first down penalties per game, handing opposing offenses an average of 17.3 yards per game.
The grade is not surprising. Their quarterback and coaching situation was a mess, and that lack of cohesiveness impacts every aspect of a team, penalties included.
They simply didn’t have the offensive firepower to consistently pressure opposing defenses and create beneficial penalties. The anemic passing penalty stats highlight the need for the Colts to become more dynamic.
The Colts hired Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as head coach, and he did a magnificent job in Philadelphia last season. The big question now is can Steichen bring that Eagles offensive output and associated penalty efficiency with him to Indianapolis?
Defensively the Colts also had issues. Added all up, there isn’t a lot to like. There is a lot of work to do for this team to improve in 2023.
How Did Penalties Impact the Houston Texans?
- The Texans ranked 24th overall in penalties per-game average and averaged just 38.1 penalty yards per game, the third-fewest of any team in 2022.
- The offense was a top-ten beneficiary of illegal contact and roughing the passer penalties.
- The Texans were one of three teams to not commit a roughing the passer penalty in 2022. This can be construed in a variety of ways. Was it they didn’t have the talent to actually get to the opposing quarterback? Or was it team discipline and good coaching? We’ll keep it positive and stick with the discipline angle.
- The offensive line performed well in two key categories. They ranked 14th overall for false starts and 23rd for offensive holding based on per-game average. That provides a solid foundation for the offense in 2023.
- The Texans ranked ninth in pre-snap penalties per game. Offside and neutral zone infractions were two areas they really struggled.
- The Texans were average at allowing passing play penalties, with 97% of them assessed on defensive pass interference and defensive holding infractions. The silver lining is the Texans on average conceded just 10.1 yards across these two categories. The pass interference penalties resulted in essentially the same yardage loss as defensive holding. The 49ers had a lower per-game average in both these categories than the Texans, so DeMeco Ryans’ arrival in Houston should improve this area of the defense even further in 2023.
The Texans’ profile was better than expected. The team did not rank well in a variety of defensive categories, but the return of Ryans to Houston as head coach is the perfect fit to solve some of these issues. Expect him to get this defensive unit to play with a lot more focus.
Offensively, there are some positives that provide a stable foundation for rookie C.J. Stroud to thrive. It is highly unlikely the Texans will be a playoff team, but there is evidence they are going to be competitive most weeks. The overall penalty profile isn’t bad, and they hired a head coach who specializes in the team’s areas of concern.