Fixing the Redskins Penalty Problem

Washington Commanders Washington Redskins

After Monday Night’s poor performance and loss to the Eagles, it was clear that penalties are still a major concern for the Redskins. This is an article that is included in the 2013 Redskins Guide Magazine, and seems relevant this morning!

Penalty Numbers courtesy of: NFL


One of the biggest problems the Redskins need to fix heading into this season is their high number of penalties. Last season the Redskins committed 131 penalties (including the postseason), of which 12 were either declined or offset by the other team. Their total number was 119, which ranked 5th in both total penalties and penalties per game. All told the Redskins 119 penalties cost them 1,000 yards (4th worst number in the league). This is an area that has to be addressed this season as they simply can’t shoot themselves in the foot that often and be expected to consistently win football games.

Now some people will say that teams like Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and Houston also committed quite a few penalties and had success. The problem is that of those teams only Baltimore committed more penalties per game than the Redskins. Also, not all penalties are equal, as yardage is very important. Of those teams only Baltimore committed more penalty yards per game (49ers had more total yards and penalties than the Redskins, but over more games).

Another factor to consider is the plus/minus of the yards you give up versus the free yards given to you when other team’s commit infractions. For the Redskins they gave up 1,000 yards and got 846 yards back. That is a 144 yards to the negative for the Redskins. The totals of the other 11 playoff teams are:

Ravens: -209

49ers: -274

Packers: +212

Seahawks: -27

Broncos: +117

Texans: +23

Falcons: +244

Patriots: +92

Vikings: +106

Bengals: -74

Colts: +440


Of the 11 other playoff teams just two had more of a negative net loss of yards than the Redskins. Of the 12 playoff teams, seven finished to the good with four getting over 100+ free yards essentially.

What’s perhaps most troubling for the Redskins is the fact that their stronger unit the offense was the culprit of the majority of these penalties; 70-49. The 70 penalties against the Redskins offense were tied for 3rd worst in the league, and the 2nd highest yardage total (highest though on a per game basis). On the flip side the defense was tied for 15th highest in total penalties (tied for 21st per game) and 21st in defensive penalty yards.

Some of the biggest penalties that consistently gave the Redskins problems were the following:

False Start: 27 total, league average 19.28

Offensive Holding: 21, league average 20.06

Defensive Pass Interference: 9, league average 7.91

Defensive Offsides: 7, league average 5.69

Personal Foul: 6, league average 2.59

Illegal Block Above the Waist: 5, league average 3.5

Unsportsmanlike:  4, league average 1.5

Intentional Grounding: 4, league average 0.94


Obviously there were quite a few additional penalties out there, but these were among the highest totals and all were above league average and categories the Redskins struggled in. A couple of things really stand out. The 10 combined personal fouls and Unsportsmanlike penalties are simply unacceptable. Not only do they far exceed the league average for those combined (just over 4), but they accounted for 150 total yards. That is a significant amount, particularly for a penalty where you typically have a lot of control over.

Also, the number of false starts and offsides penalties have to drive coaches nuts. There is no reason for the Redskins to be that undisciplined, and that is way too many free yards, (or in the case of offsides free plays). Finally, it is clear that there are some serious issues with the offensive line (and blocking in general). Not every false start or hold was their fault, but many of them were. Also, the four intentional grounding penalties are, to a large degree, on the line as well. If they weren’t under pressure Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins wouldn’t be committing those penalties. 


Top Offenders:

1. G Kory Lichtensteiger- 11 total penalties, 1 offset or declined- 6 false starts and 3 offensive holdings. Also 1 Unnecessary Roughness and ineligible downfield

The Redskins did re-sign him to a multi-year deal, but if this keeps occurring they have to look at giving another guard (Adam Gettis, Maurice Hurt, Josh LeRibeus) a look. This is simply far too many penalties, it is essentially a penalty every 100 snaps. If they stick with Lichtensteiger, he’s got to be more disciplined, and dramatically cut down on the false starts. Though holding actually costs more yards, the false starts are more frustrating because there is zero excuse for them and no benefit. The Holding needs to be cut back as well, but the false starts are definitely the most troubling.


2. T Trent Williams – 8 total penalties, 2 offset or declined- 4 false starts, 3 holding penalties and 1 illegal formation

Williams had a breakout season for the Redskins, but could really increase his value if he cuts back on the penalties to the 2-4 range. The false starts again need to be eliminated. It can be tough at times on the road and with a new quarterback, but they need to be eliminated as much as possible. Two of his penalties were declined so they didn’t hurt as bad in actual yardage, but would have if the Redskins had succeeded on those plays.


3. DeAngelo Hall – 8 total penalties, 0 offset or declined- 3 Defensive holding, 2 unsportsmanlike, 1 personal foul, 1 unnecessary roughness and 1 facemask

Hall’s got to play more controlled if he wants to stay on the field. That is five penalties that each cost the Redskins 15 yards a pop. Sure sometimes you get a guy’s facemask or maybe get called for a questionable hit, but the unsportsmanlike and personal foul penalties shouldn’t even be on here. One semi-positive is the fact that there were only 3 defensive holding penalties and no pass interference penalties, which is better than Hall has done in the past.


4. Josh Wilson- 7 total penalties, 2 offset or declined- 5 pass interference, 1 unsportsmanlike, 1 defensive holding

Wilson’s penalty count was high especially with the 5 pass interference penalties. What’s very interesting is that most of those fouls occurred in the short and not down the field like you would expect. One explanation could be that Wilson played most the year injured last season and required labrum and pectoral surgery after the year. That could explain why he wasn’t able to contain receivers as easily without grabbing them. Hopefully that is the answer as the Redskins do need to cut back on these types of penalties.


5. Logan Paulsen– 7 total penalties, 0 offset or declined- 3 holding, 3 false starts, 1 offensive pass interference

The false starts have to go. Timing simply has to be better for these guys this season. The holding penalties are frustrating as well. This was a big problem for Paulsen (in limited time) in 2011 and is still an issue. A lot of times Paulsen is going to be on the edge so it is harder for him to get away with holding. The offensive pass interference (which was an issue for a number of Redskins) is frustrating as well, because it is a very rare call. Typically offensive players get away with a lot more down the field, so if it is called you know it was pretty bad.


6. Robert Griffin III– 6 total penalties, 1 offset or declined (*note another source has Griffin with 7 penalties)- 3 intentional grounding, 1 Delay of Game, 1 offensive pass interference, 1 false start

The good news is it is doubtful that the offensive pass interference will ever come into play again considering how bad of an idea that play was. Though there was only 1 delay of game penalty, this is an area that the Redskins have to work on. It felt like at least once a week (sometimes more) they would have to burn an early timeout, because they had trouble getting the play in correctly and having everyone line-up in time. A number of times the lost timeout(s) came back to haunt them later in the half or game. The Redskins have to do a better job of getting the plays and personnel in on time, and Griffin has to do a better job of getting ready for the play and commanding the huddle after he scrambles. Though Griffin is charged with the intentional grounding penalties, those are really on the offensive line for allowing that kind of pressure. This will be even more key this year with Griffin maybe a step slower returning from his injury.


7. Fred Davis- 5 total penalties, 0 offset or declined- 2 offensive holding, 1 false start, 1 illegal shift, 1 offensive pass interference

What’s most troubling about Davis’s total is this is just in 6.5 games. Over the course of the season he would have led the team in penalties. Again a lot of just stupid penalties that should hopefully be easily corrected.


8. Ryan Kerrigan- 5 total penalties, 1 offset or declined- 2 neutral zone infractions, 2 offsides, 1 defensive pass interference

These are among the most frustrating because neutral zone and offsides penalties you are in really complete control of. Kerrigan can’t be giving up those free yards, and while he’s obviously trying to guess the snap count, if you are committing this number of penalties it isn’t worth it. Though you don’t like pass interference penalties, it’s not shocking that Kerrigan would commit one since TE’s and backs are going to be mis-matches for him to cover.

While there are obviously plenty of other penalties, these are the guys with 5 or more and the ones who really need to cut back on the infractions. A lot of these penalties like the false starts/offsides/and personal fouls should be pretty avoidable. If the Redskins can cut back on their penalties it will go a long way to helping them defend their division title this season. Obviously you can’t eliminate all the penalties, but with discipline and smart play, the Redskins can significantly cut back on giving up the free yards.



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