Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Oct 2008

Titans Not Hurt by Defensive Penalties

This week's MNF feature over at ESPN.com explains how the league's most penalized defense this season can also be the league's best.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 26 Oct 2008

10 comments, Last at 28 Oct 2008, 5:13pm by Anonymouser

Comments

1
by ammek :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 7:48am

Your stats give credence to a point which is fairly self-evident: when a defense gives up 5, 10 or 15 penalty yards it slightly increases the offense's chance of scoring; when an offense finds itself in 2nd-and-20, its chances of scoring are significantly reduced -- and the probability of a turnover grows too.

In order to level the playing field, should defensive penalties be made harsher than offensive penalties? What if offsides lost five yards for the offense, but ten for the defense? And how about calling pass interference even on an uncatchable ball? (At the moment, PI is hardly a penalty at all; where's the risk for the defensive back? It's weighing the likelihood that the receiver drops the ball against the probability that the officials neglect to throw the flag. No contest, unless you're covering Troy Williamson.)

I say this because the current tendency is for defenses and coaches to actively brag about getting penalized. It has become a calling card, a way to prove how 'aggressive' they are playing. John Fox and Mike McCarthy are among those who write off their defensive penalties as a by-product of their team's swaggering 'attitude'. The result, alas, is a systemized mugging of opposition receivers, and/or a shower of yellow flags. Neither of these is conducive to entertaining football; nor do they increase the likelihood of a fair result: as Bill points out, the more penalties committed, the greater the officials' role in deciding the outcome of the game. And nobody enjoys that.

2
by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 8:10am

Unless it's your favorite team gaining the advantage. Then it's fun.

Chris Horton for defensive rookie of the year.

4
by Eddo :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 9:47am

In order to level the playing field, should defensive penalties be made harsher than offensive penalties? What if offsides lost five yards for the offense, but ten for the defense?
You're forgetting another benefit for the offense: they get another chance at the current down. Gaining an extra play is huge.

And how about calling pass interference even on an uncatchable ball? (At the moment, PI is hardly a penalty at all; where's the risk for the defensive back? It's weighing the likelihood that the receiver drops the ball against the probability that the officials neglect to throw the flag. No contest, unless you're covering Troy Williamson.)
Your example only works when the PI is called for hitting the receiver just before the ball arrives. There are plenty of reasons that pass plays wind up as incompletions. Often, the interference that occurs doesn't really affect the play - it could be a bad throw, but not truly "uncatchable".

5
by MCS :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 10:38am

Thank you for your opinion.

Who said the playing field isn't level? Isn't scoring greater than in previous years? With all of the rule enforcement skewed to help the offense: protect the quarterback (granted, for safety), no offensive pass interference is called, offensive facemask is almost never called (think stiffarm), and holding could be called on every play it seems that the league is working to help the offense.

I happen to like aggressive defense.

Oh, and I've never heard McCarthy brag about defensive penalties. He writes them off as the nature of the bump and run coverage scheme that the Packers use, but I've never heard him brag about it.

3
by Becephalus :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 8:44am

I don't think what football needs is even more or stronger defensive penalties. Offenses have it easy enough as it is.

The Wire should win the Nobel prize for literature.

6
by ammek :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 2:00pm

Thank you for your opinion.
And you for yours.

Who said the playing field isn't level?
I thought that was the conclusion of Aaron’s (not Bill’s) article: defensive penalties have no correlation to wins, offensive penalties do. Now it could just be that the definition of a bad offense is one that gets penalized; my argument is that, in some cases, an offense may fail because of penalties. Defenses don’t have this problem. Bad defenses don’t get penalized; they get burned. I simply asked if altering the scale of offensive-to-defensive penalties would transform this, discouraging ‘aggressive’ defenses like Tennessee’s in favor of other types of defense.

I happen to like aggressive defense.
Me too. But I watched the Packers/Colts game, and the Packer DBs -- who played very well -- were nonetheless regularly breaking the rules. Indy ended up getting a bunch of penalties for lining up in the neutral zone and personal fouls, which are easy for the refs to call; Green Bay got away with plenty of holds and borderline interferences, which are much less clear-cut. My point is, all infringements should be called equally. Until that is the case, the defenses that benefit will be those that fly closest to the wire on interference.

So I like aggressive defense, but I like fair refereeing even better. And I’m a Packer fan, by the way.

Offenses have it easy enough as it is.
Not a Niners fan, then!

9
by BD (not verified) :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 6:35pm

I have also wondered this. That an offense flagged for holding, especially after getting a positive play, must move BACK 10 yards seems to me both harsh in comparison to the infraction and difficult for an offense to overcome. In contrast, a defense who gives up a first down still gets a fresh set of 3 chances at a stop. Bad, but the offense must still sustain itself to succeed. My belief is the chances of converting a 1st and 20 (or 2nd or 3rd and 20) are poor in comparison.

Perhaps Aaron has some data regarding penalties that may be enlightening. For example, the percent chance of converting after a holding call or false start. In contrast to a defense's chances of a stop on a subsequent set of downs.

7
by Tunamelt (not verified) :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 3:08pm

I can't believe the FO stat guy missed the one overriding stat on the Titan defense. 1 TD pass allowed. This is absolutely incredible in todays NFL, yet no one seems to notice, especially the "experts"

10
by Anonymouser (not verified) :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 5:13pm

Not allowing TDs might help keep points allowed down. Good input.

8
by Dales :: Mon, 10/27/2008 - 3:23pm

"Who said the playing field isn't level?
I thought that was the conclusion of Aaron’s (not Bill’s) article: defensive penalties have no correlation to wins, offensive penalties do."

Saying defensive penalties have no correlation to wins is not saying that there is not a level playing field between offensive and defensive penalties.

The way I took the article is that things that are associated with good defensive play can lead to more defensive penalties. That just is not the case for the offense. That would explain why one correlates with wins and one does not. But it is not saying that the playing field is uneven with regards to penalties.