In my last column, I discussed a key drive in the fourth quarter by the Cincinnati Bengals that resulted in a field goal to increase their lead to 20-12 over the Seahawks. It was a five play, 32 yard drive that took over four minutes. Cincinnati made three first downs on that drive. Two of those three first downs came about because of penalties against Seattle defenders. It highlighted a problem the Seahawks have been having all season.
The Bengals managed 18 first downs against the Seahawks. Five of those first downs were the result of Seahawk penalties. That is a staggering amount, the most allowed by the team in a single game this season. The cost of these penalties is immense. Field position is being surrendered. The Bengals offense is given a new set of downs. As a result of the penalties, Cincinnati was able to run the ball four times, which allowed the Bengals to kill a significant amount of time off the clock.
The Seahawks have allowed 19 first downs by penalty this year, an average of 2.7 per game. That is the third most in the league, trailing only the Oakland Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals. The average is more than double that of the 2010 season, which was 1.3. In their two victories, the average is 1.5. In their five defeats, the average is 3.2. Keep in mind that this statistic doesn’t include defensive penalties that don’t result in a first down, such as an offside penalty on a second and ten. As a team, the Seahawks are averaging 8.6 penalties per game, a significant increase over last season, when the average was 6.1. Another thing to remember is that these statistics do not include penalties that were declined or offsetting penalties.
One bright spot is that the Seahawks are not being penalized a lot of yardage. They trail only the Dallas Cowboys for fewest yards per penalty as a team with an average of 7.2 yards per penalty, which is actually down from an average of 8.6 yards last season. That would seem to indicate that the Seattle defense is not drawing the more significant penalties (such as pass interference or personal fouls), but rather a number of offside, illegal contact and defensive holding penalties.
This situation isn’t likely to improve much. The Seahawks are starting two rookies at cornerback, and referees are usually harsh on young corners. For instance, on the Bengals’ drive I mentioned earlier, the second Seahawks penalty was called on Richard Sherman for illegal contact. This penalty probably wouldn’t have been called on a more experienced player, especially since the play was toward the other side of the field. It’s something the team is going to have to adjust to. What the team can improve on is reducing the number of penalties by their defensive linemen. This is a veteran group that needs to show a little more discipline.
I am not down on the defense. They have been the best unit on the team, by far. The improvement from last year is the brightest spot is what may turn out to be a very gloomy season. However, and I will continue to make this point throughout the rest of the year, the Seahawks have virtually no margin for error. They cannot continue to allow so many first downs by penalty and expect to remain competitive in games. It is a statistic I will monitor very closely for the rest of the season.
Next to turnovers, penalties are the bane of a football team’s existence. With so many young players seeing extensive playing time, an increase in the number of penalties is to be expected. Yet it is something the team needs to work on improving as the season goes on, and I’m referring to all facets of the team. Don’t even get me started on the number of false start penalties committed by WIDE RECEIVERS this year.