Let’s not sugarcoat it: the 2015 season was abysmal for the Ravens (unless you’re using Browns standards, in which case it was run-of-the-mill).
While the underwhelming record and the pile of bodies on the trainer’s table took center stage on an otherwise crap-tastic season, perhaps one of the missing factors in this uninspiring equation was a penalty log that’s thicker than Rex Ryan (pre-belly band).
We’re all generally aware that we threw our arms up in anger over stupid penalties numerous times last season…but how bad was it really?
The easiest assessment of penalties is to look at the team’s overall count, and how they stack up to the rest of the league in terms of penalties against, as well as penalties against their opponent, in which the Ravens are the beneficiaries of the call.
For all instances and comparisons, we’ll use 2012- the year of the last Ravens Super Bowl victory- as the jumping off point.
Taking a quick look at Penalties Against, it’s blatantly obvious that the Ravens are headed in the wrong direction here, after spending the previous 3 seasons atoning for that astronomical 121 (20 over league average) penalties against the team in 2012.
Hitting a new high in penalties against the team in 2015 is a red flag in itself, but when we note that the league average actually went down in 2015, the scope of the problem truly comes into focus.
The ‘beneficiary’ side of the equation has a little more to do with luck of the draw and strength of schedule, but still has plenty to do with the players on the Ravens roster (Can your wideouts draw DPI? Can the defense draw offensive holding while rushing the passer?).
Again, the Ravens are heading in the wrong direction. We want to see an increase in this number, not a steady downfall since 2013. The (103) penalties drawn in 2015 are once again the worst in the past four years.
Also worth noting when looking at penalties differentials (‘for BAL’ vs ‘against BAL’): the 2015 league average was (-4), or essentially through 16 regular season games, teams drew 4 more penalties than their opponents did.
The Ravens? (-19).
Surprisingly, this is not the worst penalty differential in the league, as Tampa Bay (-39), Oakland (-34), Buffalo (-30) & Seattle (-23) all sit above (or below, technically) Baltimore, so yanno… silver lining?
Beyond the big picture, looking at individual players can help to identify certain guys as the key suspects, and sometimes you’ll notice the same handful of culprits committing the bulk of the infractions.
Occasionally, it’s extremely obvious (Michael Oher jumping if a coach sneezed on the sideline) and sometimes it’s the least likely suspects (Anquan Boldin leading the Ravens with 11 penalties in 2012).
The top 5 penalized players for the 2015 version of the Ravens shouldn’t come as much of a surprise:
The good news here is that KO has moved on to greener pastures & Will Hill has been moved out due to accumulating suspensions at an alarming rate. You can even take some minor solace in the fact that Dumervil will likely fall back to being a situational rusher, thus likely decreasing his snaps and potential for penalties…
…but then there’s Jimmy Smith.
Unfortunately, last season wasn’t an anomaly for Jimmy. He actually led the Ravens in penalties in 2013 as well (eight that season), and was 3rd in penalties back in 2012 (once again, eight penalties). In 2014, Smith finished outside of the top 5 on the team with only three penalties that season (Holding, DPI, Unsportsmanlike Conduct), but lest we forget, Smith only played in eight games that year.
Of course Smith attributes his horrendous 2015 to a lingering foot issue, but so far, a lackluster 2016 camp & preseason doesn’t lead many to believe a welcomed change is coming for the former first-round pick from Colorado.
Now we get into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the penalty log- breakout by penalty.
WARNING: IT’S UGLY
Overall, the Ravens committed 122 (accepted) penalties, tied for the 6th most in the NFL (with the artist formerly known as the St. Louis Rams), and led the league in Defensive Pass Interference (15), Unnecessary Roughness (15) & Illegal Shifts (4), while benefiting the least of any NFL team in opponent’s Offensive Holding (10).
Taking a look at the top four committed penalties by Baltimore initially makes you feel a bit better.
First and foremost, that scary ‘Offensive Holding’ piece of the pie isn’t as bad as it looks. The Ravens accounted for (23) O Holds in ’15, which is actually closer to league average (22.53) than the top offenders (Chicago with 35, followed by Buffalo with 33). The same can be said about their (19) False Starts (league average of 18.44).
Then there’s the Defensive Pass Interference and the Unnecessary Roughness.
The Ravens committed (15) DPI’s & (15) Unnecessary Roughness penalties last season. The league average for these two fall into the mid-7’s (7.4 & 7.6, respectively).
And to make matters worse, and really put it into perspective, the Ravens had only committed a combined (11) DPI’s in 2013 & 2014. Also worth noting, of the (26) DPI’s committed by Baltimore from 2013-2015?
EIGHT OF THEM WERE COMMITTED BY JIMMY SMITH.
As for the Unnecessary Roughness, the trend over recent years is slightly more alarming. The Ravens led the league in 2012 (16), had the 4th most such infractions the following year (11), started to right the ship in 2014 (7), then blew up the trend this past season (15).
Not-So-Fun fact: Those (49) Unnecessary Roughness penalties since 2012 are the most of any team in that four-year stretch. Seattle places 2nd with (43), and only these two teams managed double-digit Unnecessary Roughness calls in three of the past four seasons (in 2014, no team had more than nine).
In regards to the penalties against Ravens opponents in the 2015 regular season, there’s a few areas of strength that can be seen…but mostly shortcomings.
The good news here, is that the Ravens led the NFL in drawing an opponent into a False Start via movement on the defensive side of the ball.
That’s pretty much where the good news ends.
In the grand scheme of things, the Ravens’ ability to draw a flag was beyond lackluster. In fact, the team ranked 26th or lower in drawing the following penalties:
While, in the grand scheme of things, a few less flags here or there typically won’t have a major effect on the game (and it can be argued whether it was the discipline of the opponent or the Ravens’ ability to draw the flag), the Offensive Holding disparity sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact, no other team in the NFL had fewer than 14 O-Holds called against their opponent all season, while 22 out of 32 teams had 20+ of such calls in their favor.
I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that this shortcoming is a direct effect of two specific functions of the defense: a subpar pass rush coupled with an ineffective secondary.
Take the Ravens’ 37 sacks (good for 17th in the league), add a porous secondary, sprinkle in an ineffective offense, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster that gives opposing offenses either ample time to throw or really no need to throw much after taking quick (easy) leads.
The good news?
2015 is in the books. Done. Finito.
The bad news?
Stay tuned for the 2016 Penalty Projections…