Ravens coach John Harbaugh talks with officials against the… (Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE,…)
The Ravens' penchant for collecting yellow flags this season is a source of worry for coach John Harbaugh, who himself has been penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct. One of those penalties was declined, but there is no denying the Ravens have produced some alarming numbers when it comes to penalties.
In eight games, the Ravens have accumulated the second-most penalties (66) in the NFL and have lost the third-most yards (577) due to penalties. Only the Washington Redskins are worse with 75 penalties. The Ravens' penalty yards follow the Redskins' 649 penalty yards and the Pittsburgh Steelers' 585 penalty yards.
"Not happy about it," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "We had gotten to a point where that wasn't an issue for us. I think some of those calls earlier in the year with the replacement officials, we looked at them and said, 'We don't know about those calls.' But the ones since that, they're all calls that we need to be concerned about. We have to clean that up. We're capable of doing that. We've never been a highly penalized team, and that's something that I know we're going to do better at."
At this rate, franchise marks for penalties could be in jeopardy. The team is on pace to finish with 132 penalties, which would rank as the second most behind the 139 set in 2005. The projected lost yardage of 1,154 would shatter the 1,094 yards in 2009.
Penalties may not resonate with those celebrating the Ravens 6-2 record to this point, but history suggests that repeat offenders don't find much success in the postseason.
Since 1978 when the league went to a 16-game schedule, only four teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top five in both penalties and penalty yards advanced to the Super Bowl. They were the Los Angeles Raiders in 1983 (second in penalties and fourth in yards lost), the San Francisco 49ers in 1988 (tied for fifth, fifth), the Denver Broncos in 1997 (tied for fifth, fifth) and the Oakland Raiders in 2002 (third, second).
The Ravens are the only team with a winning record ranked in the top five in penalties accrued. On the flip side, the undefeated Atlanta Falcons (8-0) and the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants (6-3) are among the five teams with the fewest penalties thus far.
One area of emphasis for the Ravens this season could be infractions involving personal fouls, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct. With 13 such penalties, the team leads the league in that department, which has invited accusations of a lack of discipline.
Running back Ray Rice, whose only penalty this season is an unnecessary roughness call in the team's 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 16, defended the Ravens' style of play.
"The teams that are undisciplined, their records show that," he said. "They're the teams that end up 2-6 or are below .500. Being undisciplined, I wouldn't use that to describe us. We are a very aggressive group, and we like to get after it."
The team managed to avoid the personal fouls in wins against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 7 and the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14, but was cited four times for those types of penalties in games against the Houston Texans on Oct. 21 and the Cleveland Browns last Sunday.
Rookie running back Bernard Pierce was flagged 15 yards for a personal foul for kicking a Browns defensive player, but strong safety Bernard Pollard said Pierce was defending himself after the Browns player punched Pierce in the groin.
"And you expect him not to react? That's ridiculous. But we've got to eliminate some of the stuff that we do, and I'm one of the main culprits," said Pollard, who has been flagged twice each for personal fouls and unnecessary roughness. "… We can eliminate some of the other stuff by just going out there and playing ball."
The Ravens opened the season with struggles on pre-snap infractions. The offense was flagged for false starts, delay of game, illegal formation and illegal substitution 16 times in the first six games, including a season-worst five times in a 23-16 win against the Browns on Sept. 27.
However, in the last two contests, the unit committed just two pre-snap penalties — a development that pleased Harbaugh.
"The pre-snap penalties have been cleaned up," he said. "We have to continue building on that. That can be a problem at any time."
So far, a penalty has not cost the team a potential win. That's a positive sign, but outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said no matter how much the coaches stress avoiding penalties, it comes down to the players' self-control.
"You just can't let the emotions of the game get to you so much," he said. "If it's a play, you've just got to have a short memory and get over it. Like I said, penalties, that's something you can definitely control. I'm not really too beat up about it. I'm not going to talk to our defense and say, 'Yo, we've got to get less penalties.' Just play better football, but we've got to keep our composure."