Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Apr 2012

Who Drew Most Offensive Holding Flags in 2011?

I've been working this week on tables to send around to the FO staff for writing the player comments and team unit comments in Football Outsiders Almanac 2012. I just ran this one this afternoon and the results were so interesting I thought I would share with the class. One thing we started tracking last year was which defensive players drew the most offensive holding flags. Well, Cameron Wake of the Dolphins drew 13 of them this year. That was more than any other player by far. In fact, he drew eight on pass plays, which was more than any other player had on all plays, pass and run combined. (I'm not counting special teams here.)

Brian Orakpo and Wake tied for the league lead in 2010 with nine apiece. Orakpo had seven this year and was tied for second with underrated Oakland defensive lineman Lamarr Houston.

Here's everyone who drew at least four offensive holding flags in 2011:





91-C.Wake MIA 8 5 13
98-B.Orakpo WAS 4 3 7
99-L.Houston OAK 5 2 7
50-J.Houston KC 3 3 6
55-J.Abraham ATL 5 1 6
91-C.Clemons SEA 3 3 6
96-B.Robison MIN 4 2 6
90-J.Ratliff DAL 2 3 5
92-J.Harrison PIT 4 1 5
95-A.Haynesworth 2TM 3 2 5
95-C.Johnson CAR 5 0 5
96-K.Wimbley OAK 4 1 5





52-C.Matthews GB 3 1 4
71-A.Rubin CLE 2 2 4
75-V.Wilfork NE 1 3 4
90-D.Bryant OAK 4 0 4
90-J.Peppers CHI 4 0 4
90-N.Suh DET 3 1 4
94-J.Smith SF 1 3 4
97-C.Jenkins PHI 2 2 4
99-J.Casey TEN 1 3 4
97-J.Sheard CLE 0 4 4

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 17 Apr 2012

39 comments, Last at 21 Apr 2012, 12:59am by BaronFoobarstein


by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 4:23pm

Nice to see Lamarr Houston up there. His sack numbers dropped this year, but I thought he had a nice season. One of Al Davis' last nice draft picks.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 4:24pm

This confirms that Brian Robison has been a steal as a 2nd day draft pick. It would be interesting to see this stat cross referenced with a stat which gave some indication of how frequently a player received the attention of two blockers, althought this can be a bit subjective, especially with interior linemen. Certainly with the edge rushers, however, some indication of how frequently a guy was chipped by a tight end or running back could tell us something.

by big_jgke :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 4:36pm

Cameron Wake is a monster, a terrifying pass-rushing monster. Although I'm sure there's a significant schedule adjustment with these numbers; one would think that an end playing mostly poor o-lines would end up with more holds against than one who didn't.

by Dr. Mooch :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 7:35am

Maybe, but the other teams in the AFCE rank 2, 7, and 12 in ALY and 1, 8, and 17 in ASR. Four other games were against the NFCE, whose lines were generally above average.

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 9:28am

Statistically, maybe. I think Eli and Romo are really, really flattering the men in front of them, and it may be that when it comes to holding penalties, quality of pass blocking is far more important than the quarterback's ability to avoid sacks.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 4:46pm

Do we have figures for snaps played and times dropped into coverage? I'd like to see (times held) / ((snaps played) - (times dropped into coverage)).

by John Courage :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 5:04pm

Were last year's results written up in an article, and if so, is there a link to it? I'm especially interested to see how Peppers ranked last year. It seemed to me he was drawing a lot of holding calls last year (and not so much this year), although I have homer and selection biases.

Holy smokes is Cameron Wake off the chart! I'm surprised to see Haynesworth so high, especially given that it's (not surprisingly) mostly edge rushers and relatively few DTs.

by tuluse :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 5:51pm

It's my layman's opinion that Peppers is held a lot whether or not it gets called.

by WeaponX (not verified) :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 9:26am

I haven't watched him as much since he went to Chicago but I observed him getting held constantly as a Panther. Not just a little hugging or hooking but completely beaten blatant and often drug to the ground from behind holding. Can't blame the guys for holding though when there's a 10ish % chance it will draw a penalty. What really used to kill me was seeing Peppers get tackled from behind as he was about to hit a QB, if a hand brushed any part of a QB's head THAT drew a personal foul, but the foul that caused the foul didn't.

by Dan :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 6:09pm

Haynesworth's numbers are even more impressive considering how few snaps he played (398, according to Pro Football Focus). If he stays sane enough to play, it looks like some team that needs a penetrating DT could end up very happy (and PFF's pass rushing numbers agree).

by Mr Shush :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 5:01am

One of the Colts, Jaguars or Titans should sign him. Haynesworth's track record when it comes to injuring Matt Schaub is second to none.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 8:16am

"If he stays sane enough to play, it looks like some team that needs a penetrating DT could end up very happy"

Well, yeah. That's pretty much been the book on him since he was in Tennessee. At this point, I'd say the "if" should be in 48 pt font, bold, italic, and underlined.

by bigtencrazy (not verified) :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 5:21pm

Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee journal sentinel thinks Matthews would have drawn more flags but since the Packers were typically always winning refs looked the other way. And before folks call out McGinn as a homer he is regarded as one of the most objective football writers around.

This is a regular topic that came up during the season and McGinn would just tell readers that the Packers already had an advantage and refs wouldn't throw a flag unless it was really obvious. Folks were griping because of the constant comebacks by teams in pass mode and watching Matthews manhandled got more than a bit irritating.

by tuluse :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 5:44pm

Refs miss holding calls all the time, so that fact that Mathews was held and it wasn't called doesn't surprise me. I'm not sure how much it has to do with the Packers winning though.

by markus (not verified) :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 6:01pm

Seeing it broken down, it doesn't look like they call holding all that often. One guy was a monster then nobody else managed to even draw an average of one for every two games. I'd think everybody must draw at least a couple of totally obvious ones a year due to luck.

by CoachDave :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 6:22pm

Robert Mathis.

I have never seen anyone as consistently held snap after snap than Robert Mathis and for whatever reason it's rarely called.

I've never understood it.

by CoachDave :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 6:24pm

BTW, did you guys look for any relationship with the BJ or Ref assignments w/ regards to the frequency of O-Holding?

I've noticed in the last few years that Offensive Holding is becoming VERY inconsistent of which crew calls it and which ones don't over the years.

Wondering if my qualitative observation holds any water...


by chemical burn :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 6:45pm

That's a good point - FO has actually done studies that certain crews are more likely to call certain penalties. It would nice to account for that, but these are tiny sample sizes to begin with...

by IAmJoe :: Tue, 04/17/2012 - 9:14pm

Disappointed not to see more Lions on there besides Suh. With the double teams Suh commands, and having Fairley in there too (when he wasn't hurt), I'd like to see some of the Lion's other DL getting those.

Keeping that in mind, and responding to some of the above points about the relatively low numbers overall, I wonder if team DL rotations has a significant impact on this. For example, between Bryant, Wimbley, and Houston, OAK has 16 holding flags against total, between those three players. Is that an average total, that we just see packed onto three players because OAK doesn't rotate as much as other teams? Whereas DET might have just as many, but only 4 of them were credited to Suh, and the other 12 are split amongst the Lions' DL rotation.

I'm just thinking out loud here, but I would be curious about that. I wonder if there could be anything useful that would come out of such knowledge.

by Eggwasp (not verified) :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 2:31am

I wd have thought Oakland rotates a lot - Bryant isn't a starter but comes in with Henderson to spell Seymour and Kelly.

by IAmJoe :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 10:56pm

Admittedly, I know nothing about OAK. Maybe they have a great rotation, but I wouldn't really know it. But I do think its an interesting idea, nonetheless.

by White Rose Duelist :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 9:11am

The players on my team are the victims of more uncalled holds than the defenders on your team.

by smutsboy :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 10:55am

This actually confirms most Redskins fans belief that Orakpo is constantly being held.

But judging by the comments here, we all think some player we watch gets held all the time.

Guess there really is holding on every play.

Anyway, I look forward to Orakpo hopefully reaching the next level of pass rush beast in 2012.

by tuluse :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 10:59am

"Guess there really is holding on every play."

I really think there is. To the point where I want the league to make minor holding legal just so to make the calls more consistent.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 5:35pm

Just curious how do you define minor holding? I know some people don't realize that it is actually legal to grab and hold the pads/jersey of a player already. I doubt that you don't, so I am interested in what else you would like to be legal.

My understanding of it, I don't recall the exact rule, but in talking with some former o-linemen and hearing some coaches instructing players, all of which I do take with a grain of salt because they will coach into illegal territory, I know you can. It is something like you can grab, hold and even redirect as long as all of your arm is inside the opponents shoulders and and your hips are in front of theirs. So you can't physically grab with your right arm if their whole body is right of your hips, but you could grab with your right arm/hand if your right hip is still inside their left hip and your arm would be fully inside their shoulders. You wouldn't be able to grab with your left hand in that situation. So what some don't realize is that when an o-line locks on with his hands on the defenders pads and keeps his feet moving to stay in front and keep his arms and hands inside, he can actually turn the defender. I also believe that your hands can slip outside the defender and as long as you quickly move them back inside that it is still considered legal. You can't do anything from behind or the side, the more obvious hooking that doesn't get called as much as it should.

Again my understanding is based off what players and coaches say they can do and the rules may not technically allow all of it, so maybe that is what should be codified since it's what seems to be taught to everyone and mostly allowed, though I agree not consistently.

by tuluse :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 5:55pm

I would make anything legal where you aren't hugging the defensive player (wrapping your arms around them) or grabbing one of their limbs. That's clear enough that it should be easy to enforce (or easier).

by BaronFoobarstein :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 8:31pm

That sounds almost good to me. My problem with it is that "hugging" is something you can almost do and get similar effects. For example you can extend your arms behind or beside the other player to prevent the from moving laterally, and I don't think that should be okay. What do you think of this similar formulation?

1. The blocker's hands must be between his body and his opponent's body. I don't care if he's grabbing, holding, or whatnot, but this forces the blocking to be based on positioning rather than reaching. Perhaps to account for natural hand positioning this should be relaxed such that the blocker's body (but not the opponent's body) is treated as six inches or so wider on either side than it really is.

2. Consider a line from the blocker's to the opponent's center. The blocker may not exert a force on the opponent at an angle greater than 90 degrees to this line. He can grab and grasp all he likes, but he has to use that to push rather than to pull. And if the opponent is moving away from him he has to let go of that grasp since that's a pull.

by tuluse :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 8:53pm

I accept your proposed changes.

I would also accompany this change with Will Allen's proposed 10 yard contact zone for defenders.

by chemical burn :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 5:48pm

I think 10 yard contact zone is one of the best and most obvious ideas to improve both the game and consistency of officiating, it just kills me that the NFL will never do it... The holding stuff seems more nebulous, what's holding and what's not are inherently judgement calls (which is why the 10 yard contact zone improves things - fewer judgement calls needing to be made) and I'm not sure any of these proposals will really clear the air... (the proposals don't really get rid of borderline stuff, just move the borders slightly...)

by tuluse :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 6:19pm

I think my changes would make it easier to see if holding is taking place, thus making it easier to call.

Yes it moves the border too, and there will always be borderline cases and subjectivity, the point is to try and have as few cases on the borderline as possible.

by Dan :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 7:34pm

What is the 10 yard contact zone proposal?

by tuluse :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 7:43pm

Defenders can jam receivers for 10 yards instead of 5.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 10:01pm

Sounds like a very good change to me.

by chemical burn :: Fri, 04/20/2012 - 10:59pm

Yeah, I think it's brilliant because so much of the incidental contact and borderline stuff happens with underneath routes going... right around 5 yards down the field. Move it to 10 and a dude getting sorta glanced by a linebacker 6 yards out becomes a non-issue.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Sat, 04/21/2012 - 12:59am

It'll also tone down the 6 yard passing game some, which I'm finding less interesting as a spectator.

by David Mazzotta :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 12:48pm

Have you done this for other years? And if so, are players consistent across years? It would be interesting to know is this is a real skill or just random variation.

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Wed, 04/18/2012 - 2:13pm

so JH gets a flag called about

1% of the times he's actually held

Better rate than I recalled...

Velvet Sky fan

by GK (not verified) :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 11:18am

Expected that none of the Giants various pass rushers show up on this list. Every holding call the Giants DL drew, and they seemed to be few and far in between, was cause for a raucous celebration. Which makes little sense given the pressure they generate and the individual matchups against some weak OL this year.

The above is all observational, without the actual #s to prove it, so I would be curious to see how high or low the Giants as a team ranked in drawing offensive holding calls.

by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Thu, 04/19/2012 - 12:21pm

I'd anecdotally thought at the end of the season that Wake didn't have as good of a season this year as he did the year before... I guess this would partially explain why it seemed that way.

Fire Jeff Ireland.