Stat of the Day: Most Penalties

As part of our ongoing Stat of the Day series, we're digging deep into our spreadsheets to run a new stat every weekday until Super Bowl XLIV. Today, let's look at who drew the most flags and lost the most yards to penalties in 2009.

Our penalty count includes both declined and offsetting penalties. The top teams in penalties are generally the top teams in penalty yards, although not necessarily in the same order. Except for Minnesota, the top nine teams in penalties are also among the top eight teams in penalty yardage.

Team Penalties Pen Yards
OAK 137 920
PHI 134 953
BAL 132 1094
CIN 132 863
GB 130 1059
DAL 127 892
MIN 123 755
BUF 122 855
ARI 120 886

Here is a list of the most penalized players in 2009. Alex Barron also was second with 16 in 2007 and tied for eighth with 11 in 2008. The guy is a penalty machine.

14: Alex Barron, STL
13: Flozell Adams, DAL
13: Andrew Whitworth, CIN
13: Jeremy Trueblood, TB
13: Cornell Green, OAK
12: Vernon Davis, SF
12: Phil Loadholt, MIN
11: Levi Brown, ARI
11: Brett Favre, MIN

You don't normally get a quarterback in the top ten, but Favre had six Delays of Game, three Illegal Forward Passes, an Intentional Grounding, and a False Start. Veteran composure!

Obviously, those leaders are mostly offensive linemen. Here are the leaders in defensive penalties (special teams not included).

9: Ray Edwards, MIN
9: Dunta Robinson, HOU
9: Marcus Trufant, SEA
8: Charles Woodson, GB
8: Stanford Routt, OAK
8: Tony Brown, TEN

The leaders in yardage include more defenders because of our good friend Defensive Pass Interference.

1) Marcus Trufant, SEA (9 for 133)
2) Tramon "Admiral Armbar" Williams, GB (6 for 124)
3) Frank Walker, BAL (9 for 97)
4) Flozell Adams, DAL (13 for 95)
5) Corey Webster, NYG (7 for 89)
6) Andrew Whitworth, CIN (13 for 87)
7) Domonique Foxworth, BAL (6 for 84)
8t) Andre' Goodman, DEN (4 for 83)
8t) Quincy Butler, STL (5 for 83)
10t) Alex Barron, STL (14 for 80)
10t) Antonio Smith, HOU (8 for 80)

Finally, I had a reader specifically ask who led the league in Defensive Pass Interference. This wasn't even close in 2009. Marcus Trufant had seven DPIs for 128 yards. Nobody else had more than four. The players with four were Tramon Williams (109 yards), Frank Walker (74), Domonique Foxworth (74), Dunta Robinson (61), Ron Bartell (56), and Brent Grimes (44 yards).


63 comments, Last at 03 Jun 2010, 4:04pm

#1 by DrewTS (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 2:46pm

I'm surprised that Incognito isn't on this list. This will hurt his rep.

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#29 by Dean // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:45pm

Lets not go overboard now. But it was pretty funny.

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#2 by Joe T. // Jan 20, 2010 - 2:49pm

Didn't Favre get a chop block called on him too?

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#4 by vesini // Jan 20, 2010 - 2:58pm

Item #479 in the difference between Eagles' DVOA and actual performance - Penalties! Aaron, the birds are #2 in both categories, yet no player was in the top fifteen? How does this happen?

And, since DVOA does seems to differ, how are penalties factored into DVOA?

vesini, who did not use the proper stats, and is dead.

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#11 by Kal // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:30pm

DVOA factors in false starts and DPI. I believe everything else is ignored.

Which after watching Baltimore and Philly screw themselves over via penalties (and then seeing them show up here) makes me think this is somewhat flawed.

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#26 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:31pm

DVOA factors in four penalties:

False Starts
Delay of Game
Intentional Grounding (like a sack of that number of yards)
Defensive Pass Interference (like a pass completion of that number of yards)

I've tested Illegal Contact and Offensive Pass Interference and they didn't improve things.

I haven't quite figured out how to do other penalties, and based on correlation with wins and losses, False Start, Delay of Game, and DPI (if you correlate yards, not just number of penalties) are the most important penalties.

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#42 by Kal // Jan 20, 2010 - 9:29pm

I would imagine there's no direct correlation (in the sense that # of holding penalties equates to a specific win/loss system) but it's hard to buy that fewer penalties by themselves would have no correlation with winning, all other things being equal.

I would think that for at least something like holding, you could assign that the value of the hold and associate it with the running offense or passing offense depending on the play.

Also - the above are penalties that are simply accepted, right? Have you done any analysis on # of penalties called on a team and whether that has any correlation? I bring it up because false starts and delay of games are never declined (or virtually never), and DPI is rarely declined (and when it is it is because the pass was caught, giving the same or a better result). (ETA: sorry, missed the explanation that it does take that into account - and still no correlation? so odd.)

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#48 by DeltaWhiskey // Jan 21, 2010 - 4:03am

Another way to evaluate the effects of Penalties is to look at their cost/benefit. On average, a YD of field position is worth about .07 Points. Therefore:

5 YD * .07 = 0.35
10 YD * .07 = 0.7
15 YD * 07 = 1.05
DPI * X YDS = ________ (20 yd DPI = 1.4)

Additionally, a first down is on average worth about 1.13 pts. So, for the offense most defensive 10 yd pentalites are going to be worth on average 1.83 points, almost (if not) all 15 yd penalties are on average are worth 2.18 pts and the 20 yd DPI is worth 2.53 pts.

For the defense calculating the value of a penalty needs to include the yardage value, plus the likelihood of making a first down after a penalty (i.e. if the likelihood of first down on 1st and 20 is 20%, then the holding penalty is worth 0.7 pts + 0.8*1.13pts = 1.6pts).

So, without factoring in the 1st Down effect we can see that on average, penalties cost the 10 most penalized teams the following number of points per game:

OAK 4.0
PHI 4.2
BAL 4.8
CIN 3.8
GB 4.6
DAL 3.9
MIN 3.3
BUF 3.8
ARI 3.9

On average 4 points (or more) per game.

Caveat: These are gross averages that do not take into account the game situation. Improvement could be made by accounting for field position, the effects a penalty has on the likelihood of making/not making a 1st down, etc.

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#60 by Pat (filler) (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 4:56pm

Penalties are often more associated with the officiating crew than the actual team, so Baltimore and Philly getting hit with a lot of penalties might have to do with them simply getting the short end of the stick in terms of who the officiating crew was that day.

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#5 by S // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:03pm

Frank Walker is listed as having 9 penalties in the yardage leaders list, but isn't listed among the defensive leaders in number of penalties. Is this a typo, or did he accumulate 2 or more penalties on special teams?

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#32 by Anonymously (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 5:18pm

Frank Walker is known as "The Human Penalty" on some message boards.

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#6 by Rogersworthe // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:11pm

I'm shocked Nick Harper of my beloved Titans isn't on that list of Pass Interference leaders. It certainly felt like he committed 17 a game. I now realize that perception was wrong.

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#7 by C (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:17pm

I thought for sure Flozel Adams would be #1, but #4 isn't bad. Seems like it's one giant competition between lineman who can't remember the snap count & hold and cornerbacks who "cheat".

One minor side note. One of the main complaints against coaches and a reason why fans argue to fire them is penalties. People argue that bad coaches have undisciplined teams and that they commit too many penalties and lose too much.

I don't have the stats in front of me but I believe a lot of Parcells & Coughlin teams had a lot of penalties and they were known as more "disciplinarians".

I have my own theory on why that is but I just think it's interesting. People hate coaches for a few reasons... How they look and more specific how they look on the sidelines ( unfair), penalties, clock/game management ( legit complaint). I don't even think "poor game planning" is often cited enough or "failure to make adjustments", that usually gets into " can't win a big game" or just plain "isn't very good".

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#16 by Eddo // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:49pm

Fans of every team bitch about their coaches. Personally, I think that because it doesn't require any obvious physical abilities (unlike being a player), casual fans think they are qualified.

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#24 by Anonymous2 (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:06pm

Some teams actually teach penalty prevention in practice. The Colts, for instance, keep track of penalties in practice and actively teach their players how to avoid it. Some teams don't spend that time. It doesn't mean the team is better/worse, but it does have a huge 'hidden yardage' effect.

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#25 by Kevin from Philly // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:12pm

By "avoid", I assume you mean "don't get caught" as opposed to "don't commit"?

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#43 by Whatev (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 10:38pm

Well, since in the first place the dividing line between, say, a hold and a legal block is rather imprecise, the two often amount to the same thing.

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#63 by Saxxin (not verified) // Jun 03, 2010 - 4:04pm

Like Ward (steelers) grabbing facemask and the defender getting a PI call.
He did that twice last year and got a free first down.

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#54 by C (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 12:40pm

In college before the season started they had NCAA refs come out and talk about what they'd call, what was a penalty, what wasn't etc.

I don't know if I'd credit the Colts with "penalty prevention for tracking them... In high school if somebody on the line jumps the whole team runs... It's just pretty standard. Just like if a WR drops a pass he ( or the whole WR core) is doing 10 push ups. It's just a common football thing. I'd say the NCAA refs coming out and talking what they look for etc. to DB's is more "penalty prevention".

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#58 by Anonymous2 (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 3:02pm

No, I mean Polian has stated that they actually spend time in meetings teaching penalty prevention, using practice and game film. I don't mean a guy gets in trouble and does pushups. Many teams players appear to not even understand the rules about what is/isn't a penalty, so it seems fair to say this isn't the case across the entire NFL.

And yes, this is probably 'how do we get away with it' more than 'how do we not do it'.

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#8 by C (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:19pm

and who are the NFL's dirtiest players?

It seems like the players vote Hines Ward to run away with this award every year. Gurode makes the list every year now for his incident with Haynesworth, I'd nominate Flozell Adams, and I'm sure there are plenty of other lineman/DB's on that list as well.

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#13 by 2468ben // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:45pm

Gurode was the one on the receiving end of Haynesworth's stompiness, so he must be on the list despite everyone's sympathy?

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#17 by Bobman // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:49pm

his eye socket viciously bent one of Haynesworth's cleats!

okay, I guess the reasoning is that, presumably, Haynesworth went ballistic because of something Gurode did. Which makes some sense. Not sure it outweighs the sympathy vote.

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#20 by Temo // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:58pm

Gurode makes the list every year now for his incident with Haynesworth

Surely you meant the opposite.

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#57 by C (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 12:45pm

Yeah I did, my bad. Sometimes I'm sicledic.

They say Albert is actually a nice guy and isn't as dirty as they say, I think he was just angry that Gurode was playing dirty and stomped the dirty cowgirl.

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#41 by Will Allen (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 8:45pm

I think Flozell's theory is that if he commits a penalty on every series of downs, the zebras will not want to appear as if they are ganging up on him, and thus will let him go unflagged on about 80 to 90 percent of his infractions. From the roughly seven or eight Cowboys games I saw this year, it seems to be fairly sound reasoning.

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#45 by Marko // Jan 21, 2010 - 12:49am

That's similar to what Pat Riley supposedly taught the Knicks in the 1990s. As I have heard it, he told the Knicks that they should foul pretty much every time down the floor on the theory that the officials couldn't and wouldn't call every foul, resulting in a style of play that Michael Jordan called "uglyball."

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#9 by djanyreason // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:29pm

"Except for Minnesota, the top nine teams in penalties are also among the top eight teams in penalty yardage."

That "except" is really carrying a lot of weight there.

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#10 by Gus A. (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:29pm

If this data were on a "per snap" basis, Frank Walker would run away with the DPI yardage "title".

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#12 by FooBarFooFoo (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:40pm

Wow, eight of the ten most penalized teams are playoff teams.

I always thought committing many penalties would be a killer. Obviously not ... is this a useless stat now? (And everybody knows the Raiders would be the kings ...)

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#21 by Temo // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:59pm

It's been a "useless" stat for a while. There's been plenty of studies already done on penalty effects, especially defensive penalties.

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#28 by Dave51 (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:43pm

I don't know if I'd say it's completely useless. Sure 8/10 of the top made the playoffs, but only one of those teams (the one with the least penalty yardage) is still playing. I'm not saying any of those teams lost specifically because of penalties, but committing penalties in the playoffs doesn't make winning any easier either.

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#30 by Temo // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:59pm

Hence I put useless in quotes. Obviously penalties are never good. They might just not be as bad as people think.

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#56 by C (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 12:44pm

I agree there is not that correlation that people look for...

People just use them to bitch about when their team losses. Penalties and Injuries. It's never that " the Redskins just suck", it's always penalties and injuries. Bad calls against them, and bad luck with injury.

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#15 by MilkmanDanimal // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:48pm

And all of Stanford Routt's came in one drive in that Cleveland game!

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#18 by alexbond // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:52pm

Thing about Trufant was that he was coming back from injury and slower because of it, and I believe his first two games back he matched up with Andre Johnson and Miles Austin, and most of his DPIs were trying to keep up with those two. He hasn't been a penalty machine over his career, I think that he, like the rest of the Hawks, just had a really shitty year.

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#27 by jalbouty // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:36pm

Trufant had another pass interference against Roy Williams in addition to his 2 on Miles Austin (both on 3rd and long), though if I'm remembering it right, the Williams penalty was still a very catchable ball.

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#19 by justinf (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 3:58pm

Also some of trufaunts calls were strait up BS. I'm a pretty non homerish person and I don't boo legit penalties but tru got some really questionable ones.

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#22 by Vincent Verhei // Jan 20, 2010 - 4:02pm

I want to remind everyone that Trufant led the league in DPIs despite playing only 10 games. Thank you.

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#33 by Anonymously (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 5:20pm

can we get penalties per snap? who wins in this category?

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#31 by Aaron Schatz // Jan 20, 2010 - 5:04pm

A quick note: This article helped us realize a problem where penalties and games played were not appearing for offensive linemen or special teams players on our player pages. That's now fixed, so if you search an offensive lineman like Alex Barron or Flozell Adams you can get his total penalties and penalty yards for 2006-2008 (free) or his whole career (premium subscribers). 2009 still hasn't been added.

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#34 by commissionerleaf // Jan 20, 2010 - 5:21pm

What, Charles Woodson, the reigning DPOY, is in the top few for defensive penalty yards, and neither DeMarcus Ware or Darrelle Revis is even close?


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#35 by MilkmanDanimal // Jan 20, 2010 - 5:42pm

Well, Woodson's more aggressive style of play would logically lead to more DPI penalties than Revis', for lack of a better term, "pure coverage" . . . coverage.

That sounded better in my head.

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#38 by Roger Cossack (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 7:51pm

He's not up there for yards; he's up there for # of penalties.

He WOULD be in the top few for INT return yards, yards lost on sacks for DBs, yards gained from fumbles forced and recovered....I'm sorry, are those less important?

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#44 by stay firm (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 11:06pm

Uh, they are actually greatly overrated both by most fans and the mainstream media.

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#50 by Thomas_beardown // Jan 21, 2010 - 7:05am

They are very important, just not likely to be repeated. There is a huge difference there.

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#59 by Roger Cossack (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 3:33pm

Greatly overrated how?

Overrated like non-predictive?

You mean like the type of defensive penalties Woodson accumulates, which do nothing to predict performance or future success, as per DVOA?

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#62 by givetomethespa… // Jan 22, 2010 - 10:17am

...and Revis deflected 13 more passes (31) during the regular season, holding opposing WRs to 121 fewer yards (439), the same number of completions (40), and 4 fewer touchdowns (2) on 24 more targets (108). And come on, he did have 6 interceptions.

FWIW Green Bay gained a total of 4 yards on Woodson's FFs ;) To my mind, when the defense forces a turnover, that's vastly more important than whatever yards they gain after the fact.

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#53 by Arkaein // Jan 21, 2010 - 12:03pm

Sorry, but Woodson mostly commits 5 yard penalties, thanks for playing.

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#36 by stay firm (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 6:32pm

Do you guys have a home/road breakdown for penalties, particularly DPI, Holding and PFs?

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#37 by Still Laughing (not verified) // Jan 20, 2010 - 6:32pm

"Tramon 'Admiral Armbar' Williams"

I'm still laughing. That will never, ever, EVER get old.

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#39 by batbatt // Jan 20, 2010 - 8:06pm

So, Woodson and Admiral Armbar on two of the lists...and didn't Walker play with the Packers for a while? I think I'm trying to suppress any memory of him being on the team.

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#46 by Anon (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 1:10am

"Tramon Williams (109 yards), Frank Walker (74), Domonique Foxworth (74)"
The majority of those twelve penalties happened in the Packers-Ravens penalty-fest.

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#47 by Nick-carolina (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 2:15am

Flozell Adams - greatest 2-way player ever

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#49 by Kibbles // Jan 21, 2010 - 5:09am

Made a bet with myself before I opened the link that the Raiders would be #1. Of course I won. I promptly pointed at my nose, gave myself a hearty "in my FACE", and did an unseemly little gloating dance. I'm now a little bit bitter at how much of a tool I am when I'm right.

Penalties are really the last bastion of Al's "commitment to excellence". The Raiders have lost all traces of excellence except for one- they still always excel at playing sloppy, dirty, or some combination of the two.

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#51 by slomojoe (not verified) // Jan 21, 2010 - 11:10am

So, how about teams who had the most penalties (number and yards) in favor?

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#61 by bluke1 // Jan 22, 2010 - 9:31am

I asked this question in an email, but I'll put it out there for you guys. What team has been the beneficiary of the most DPI calls in 2009 or hell even since they changed the rule?

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