As the Ravens prepare for what will essentially be a glorified preseason game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, they must utilize this time to get healthy and fine tune their team.
One major area of concern: penalties.
Heading into the final game of the regular season, the Ravens have been the flagged fifth-most times (120) in the NFL, but have given away the most yardage to penalties (1025).
After practice on Wednesday, I caught up with right tackle Kelechi Osemele to ask if there is anything the team can work on to reduce the occurrences of shooting themselves in the foot with penalty flags.
“Not necessarily,” Osemele said when asked if the coaches are trying anything this week in practice to keep them disciplined during games. “We’re all professionals and know there are penalties that we just can’t have.”
Penalties were one of the only flaws in what seemed like perfect execution for the Ravens as they beat the New York Giants and clinched the AFC North. In one drive, left tackle Michael Oher was penalized three times, causing many to question the team’s discipline.
“A lot of those penalties last week were calls we couldn’t control and maybe some calls that might have gotten messed up,” Osemele said. “There’s nothing we can do, we’ve just got to keep playing controlled and disciplined football. We have to have guys control their tempers and control what you can control.”
When breaking down the Ravens penalties, these are a few areas of interest:
Typically, the top culprit to draw a yellow flag from an official is found on the offensive or defensive line, but for the Ravens, wide receiver Anquan Boldin is public enemy #1. Boldin’s 10 penalties have accounted for 95 yards and nullified 49 gained yards of offense. The best news about Boldin’s penalties is that only two of them actually stalled a drive (meaning the Ravens were unable to pick up a first down or score following the flag being thrown.)
Left tackle Michael Oher is second on the team with nine.
Although he’s only played in 10 of the Ravens 15 games so far this season, cornerback Jimmy Smith finds himself ranked third on the team with seven penalties. This season Smith has been flagged for holding (3x), pass interference (2x), illegal use of hands, and encroachment.
Right tackle Kelechi Osemele has had a solid rookie season, especially given that he would prefer to play guard but has played tackle all season. While facing some of the NFL’s best pass rushers on a weekly basis, Osemele has committed only six penalties, which is seventh-most on the team.
Osemele’s penalties have often hurt the team though, as on five of the six drives on which he’s been penalized, the Ravens have stalled and were unable to get a first down or score on the drive following KO’s flag.
The Ravens have received the second-most unnecessary roughness penalties in the NFL. Safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed make up almost half of those flags being one of the hardest hitting secondaries in the league. Many around the league do not believe their penalties are justified because even though the hits are hard, they should be legal.
Regardless how much people want to complain about how the game has gone soft, the new enforcement has hurt the Ravens. They have lost 197 yards (most in the NFL) due to unnecessary roughness calls and given opponents nine first downs.
Top 5 Most Common Penalties
The following table shows the most frequent penalties called against the Ravens.
Note: Many fans noticed the Fox graphic on Sunday that said the Ravens have drawn the most personal foul penalties in the league this season. That number (31 at the time, now 32) combines unnecessary roughness, personal foul (unspecified), roughing the passer, face mask, and unsportsmanlike conduct flags.
The penalties this year have been especially shocking for Ravens fans because the team had done so well to improve in that area in recent seasons.
The Ravens were known as one of the NFL’s “bad boys” under former head coach Brian Billick. During the final three years of his tenure, they finished with the 28th, 24th, and 29th most penalty yards, respectively, in the NFL (via).
When John Harbaugh came to the Ravens in 2008, they improved to 23rd. In 2009, they fell back down to 31st, but most of that could be blamed on Frank Walker (only half-kidding). In 2010, they improved to 10th and in 2011 had cut the penalties down to the point of being just the 4th-most penalized team in the league.
Things definitely seemed to be moving in the right direction as Harbs brought in “his guys” who played sound, disciplined football.
Now though, they’ve fallen all the way from fourth to the very bottom of the league.
Hopefully they can cut down on the flags during the postseason, where every yard can mean the difference between hoisting a Lombardi Trophy and hoisting your stuff out of your locker to start the offseason. The time for giving away precious field real estate to penalties is over.