Pulpiteer and fullback Jamesdevlin posed the following question:
I feel like our offensive penalties have been way down. Could you post week by week for the whole year?
Here's the penalty breakdown on offense:
We see a clear improvement during the winning streak. Of course there's a major blip from the Kansas City game, but it's clear that no ref was going to call a penalty, unless it was egregious, on a team so far behind. Instead, the Patriots finally settled down and started playing smarter on offense.
Where does it start? The offensive line has improved. Jordan Devey had been called for five penalties, while Nate Solder started the season with four penalties in the first two games. Once the team was able to solidify its starting line-up of Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer, the penalties immediately started to decrease. Solder was called for three offensive holding calls in the first five weeks- and none since.
But have things changed on defense?
Not particularly. Yes, Brandon Browner is getting flagged approximately thirty times a game- but that just means that Browner is getting flagged for illegal contact, instead of Logan Ryan. The reality is New England has resigned itself to the fact it's going to get hit for a couple holding penalties every single game- and they're completely okay with it.
Because overall, it's a net positive. It's better to be penalized for five yards than to let a player get behind the defense. And the five yards for contact are better than a fifteen yard pass interference.
And the Patriots have clearly settled into a pattern. They're going to be hit for 50-60 yards every game. It can be improved upon, but it's also baked into the game plan. The team looks better when it's imposing its defensive will upon the opposing offense, even if it costs a flag or two.
That said, there is still room to improve.
The team has had a spike in personal fouls (15 yards) over the past couple of weeks, which are definitely more damaging than any penalty during the course of the play. The team is walking a fine line between dominance and recklessness and they need to stay away from the latter. While the team is enjoying a physical style of play, they need to stop with the face mask penalties.
Research shows that a penalty on offense will reduce the expected points on the drive by one- and a defensive penalty increases the opponent's expected points by one. The Patriots currently rank as the second most flagged team in the league, behind just the Broncos. While the penalties are now expected in this defense, any improvement in discipline during the remainder of the season will only serve to help the Patriots find greater success.