The following is an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2024 Football Preview book. In addition to Warren’s deep, detailed write-up on all 32 NFL teams, each chapter features page after page of full-color charts, stats, and heatmaps as well as penalty analysis from Joe Gibbs. Click here for a full FREE chapter from the 2024 Football Preview.

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 Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals performed from a penalty perspective in 2023 and where they can improve in 2024.

Penalty Analysis for All 32 NFL Teams
AFC East
AFC North
AFC West
AFC South
NFC East
NFC North
NFC West
NFC South

How Did Penalties Impact the Baltimore Ravens?

The Good

  • The Ravens were a top-five defense in surrendering automatic first downs via penalties. While that sounds negative, the Ravens consistently rank as an above-average penalized defense. That hands-on approach is part of the Ravens’ DNA, and it’s effective
  • To no surprise, the defense excelled at generating offensive holding and false starts on opponents when playing at home in 2023. They ranked top five in both categories
  • The defense ranked second in per-game average at generating penalties on opposing offenses. Three of the top five in this category were AFC North teams (Ravens, Browns, Steelers)
  • The defense averaged the fewest pre-snap penalties per game in 2023, accounting for just 8.5% of the team’s pre-snap infractions. That’s well below the league average of 22%
  • A below-average 31% of Ravens penalties were pre-snap with the vast majority committed by the offense via false start and delay of game infractions
  • Only 18% of the Ravens penalties occurred on third downs, one of the lowest percentages in the NFL and well below the league average of 25%
  • Conversely, the offense generated 32% of their beneficial penalties on key third down plays
  • The Ravens had their most productive season in the Lamar Jackson era as a beneficiary of penalties via passing plays, primarily via defensive holding and defensive pass interference

The Bad

  • The Ravens were co-leaders for roughing the passer and led the NFL in face mask penalties. They also ranked in the top ten for unnecessary roughness. These three infractions accounted for 26% of their total penalty yardage surrendered in 2023

The above-average penalties on the defense is standard operating procedure for the Ravens.

It’s a proven strategy and the reality is that Baltimore’s defense gets away with far more holding calls than they are ever penalized for,

The Ravens offense was efficient and generally played ahead of the chains last season.

Lamar Jackson’s passing numbers improved as he powered to his second MVP and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Despite all this, Baltimore failed to reach the Super Bowl. They deviated from the game plan that propelled them all season, and it cost them dearly in the AFC Championship.

The addition of Derrick Henry is evidence the Ravens management realized the error of their ways in the AFC Championship. Expect this offense to lean even more into the run game.  

The offensive line has question marks heading into the season, but having Jackson does mask some of the potential weaknesses,

The offensive game plan will revolve heavily around Henry and Jackson. That approach, backed by outstanding defensive and special teams units, makes the Ravens the team to beat again in a loaded AFC North division.

How Did Penalties Impact the Cleveland Browns?

The Good

  • The defense ranked No. 1 in generating pre-snap infractions on opposing offenses in 2023 
  • An NFL-leading 32% of penalties on Browns opponents were assessed via false start infractions. A key factor for this will be detailed later. The false start numbers contributed to the defense ranking third in generating overall total penalties on opposing offenses
  • The Browns were one of two teams not to commit a roughing the passer penalty
  • The Browns ranked 19th in surrendering automatic first downs via penalties
  • The offense was one of the least penalized for pre-snap penalties. A feat all the more impressive considering the constant shuffle at quarterback for the team throughout the 2023 season
  • A below-average 38.7% of the Browns’ penalty yards were committed by the offense

The Bad

  • The Browns ranked second for pre-snap penalties per game with a disproportionate 50% assessed on their defense, well above the NFL average of 22% on defensive units. This is not necessarily bad, as we detailed the effectiveness of this defense at creating penalties on opponents throughout 2023
  • The defense ranked at or near the top for defensive offsides, neutral zone infraction, encroachment, and defensive too many men on the field. Those four groups accounted for 30% of the Browns’ total penalties. Due to some of these penalties, opposing offenses flinched more often, losing five yards of field position. That in turn tilted the line of scrimmage advantage to the Browns pass rush.
  • The Browns ranked fourth in declined penalties per game. These infractions don’t register on an official boxscore only because of a more egregious outcome on the play

While it’s not ideal to lead the league in defensive pre-snap infractions, those Browns penalties clearly presented a major issue for the opposing offenses last season.

From a penalty perspective, it’s the ultimate cat ‘n mouse game in the trenches and merits watching in 2024.

What’s interesting is the similarities between Buffalo and Cleveland in pre-snap penalties, and both finished the season as top-tier units at creating negative situations via false starts on the opponent.

The Browns offense was extremely disciplined despite constant turnover at the quarterback position. A healthy and focused Deshaun Watson would go a long way in taking the Browns to the next level in 2024.

This Cleveland team is really solid on both sides of the ball. Team health is paramount if the Browns are to navigate through a difficult schedule and arguably the toughest division in the NFL. They will require some luck but cannot be written off as a playoff possibility this season.

How Did Penalties Impact the Pittsburgh Steelers?

The Good

  • Pittsburgh ranked 27th in penalties per game
  • A below-average 39% of the Steelers penalties were committed by the offense. Limited penalties are essential for a risk-averse team like the Steelers to function at a competent level
  • The Steelers ranked 30th in pre-snap penalties per game, with those infractions accounting for just 30.5% of the team’s overall penalties 
  • The offensive line was responsible for only 18% of the team’s overall penalties
  • The Steelers were a top-10 defense at generating pre-snap infractions on opposing offenses

The Bad

  • The wide receivers and tight ends were responsible for an above-average percentage of offensive penalties. This could be due to the offensive scheme. It’s worth noting new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s teams committed fewer penalties at these positions
  • A disproportionately high 20% of the Steelers’ overall penalties were via discipline-related infractions such as face mask and unsportsmanlike conduct
  • The defensive backs were responsible for 32% of the team’s penalties and 34% of total penalty yardage
  • An above-average 30% of the Steelers’ penalties occurred on third down plays with a 50% split of these penalties between offense and defense

A key component of the Steelers’ strategy is not beating themselves with self-inflicted offensive penalties. This allows the Pittsburgh offense to play ahead of the chains at an above-average rate.

The Steelers averaged just 17.9 points per game last season and made the playoffs. That average will increase this season, but not substantially. The room for error is slim to none most weeks.

The new quarterback situation will bear watching. Pittsburgh is better equipped than most teams to make it work effectively with the structure and leadership already in place.

The Steelers offensive line has the chance to be a top-five unit in 2024. There is no mystery to their offensive strategy. It won’t be splashy, but it is necessary for Pittsburgh to compete against teams with superior quarterbacks.

The brutal schedule has been well-documented. Let’s remember, recent history shows quarterbacks from their AFC North rivals who are a part of the brutal December schedule have been susceptible to injuries. 

The Steelers have talent, particularly along both lines of scrimmage. The late-season schedule looms large, and some luck may be required to navigate it. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers find a way of being in the mix late no matter the circumstances, and 2024 figures to be no different.

How Did Penalties Impact the Cincinnati Bengals?

The Good

  • The Bengals ranked 31st in penalties per game average and averaged the fewest yards surrendered per game in the NFL. That continues a trend of disciplined play in the Zac TaylorJoe Burrow era
  • The Bengals ranked 31st for offensive holding. Only the All-Pro-laden Eagles offensive line performed better in this key category
  • The Bengals averaged the fewest offensive penalty yards per game in 2023
  • The Bengals offense was a mid-tier unit in generating penalties via passing plays. The offense faded down the stretch in the absence of Joe Burrow at quarterback. Before his injury, the offense was a top-five beneficiary of penalties via passing plays
  • The defense surrendered a below-average amount of automatic first downs via penalties. More importantly, 80% of these penalties occurred on less punitive first and second down plays

The Bad

  • An above-average 28% of Bengals penalties occurred in third downs
  • The Bengals ranked second for delay of game infractions. It was the one category this team struggled in last season

The Bengals offense at full strength was a well-oiled machine last season. Joe Burrow played five games at close to 100%, and the Bengals were 4-1 in those contests

Unfortunately, their core group wasn’t on the field enough.

The Bengals front office acquired veteran Trent Brown and drafted rookie Amarius Mims, fortifying the offensive line in an effort to keep Burrow untouched. Mims is a raw talent and is thrust into a division with excellent defensive fronts, but his upside is immense.

In terms of offensive talent and team discipline, the Bengals’ organizational structure has been among the NFL’s best since 2020.

However, cracks are beginning to appear in the foundation. Discontent over player contracts and concern around Burrow’s health threaten to derail a legitimate contender. The defense isn’t the dominant unit it was in recent seasons.

The Bengals have been a slow starter in past seasons, but they get a manageable early schedule in 2024. They cannot afford to be slow out of the gates, or the season could slip away from them.

Off-field issues aside, this Bengals team will be a Super Bowl contender as long as Burrow is upright with the current crop of skill position talent around him. If Cincinnati can navigate the AFC North minefield and make the playoffs, they loom as the biggest threat to the Chiefs’ quest at a Super Bowl three-peat in 2024.

This analysis continues in the 2024 Football Preview

Order Warren Sharp’s 2024 Football Preview to get penalty analysis for all 32 NFL teams.

Warren Sharp’s 500+ page full-color PDF, the 2024 Football Preview, is unlike anything you have previously read. Stunning visualizations, including new heat maps, are built with the reader in mind. Innovative, next-level thought process abounds in every team chapter and article.

Get Warren’s Book for $34.99

Order Book

Warren Sharp’s book shares insights into the players, coaches, teams, and philosophies with one goal: to prepare you for the 2024 NFL season with the smartest information delivered in the fastest, most direct way possible for optimal reviewing and retention.

  • Team Chapters previews are in-depth, data driven & full of actionable info
  • Fantasy Football player profiles, predictions, and ranks
  • Vegas Odds forecast team wins, division rankings, lines for all 2024 games
  • Coaching strategic advice for teams, play calling analysis & team tendencies
  • Front Office Analysis positional spending, roster construction & cap analysis
  • Reasons to bet over/under win totals & analysis of futures betting market
  • Rookie draft class deep dive into impact for every team
  • Rankings for every positional unit on every team with analysis