The NFL is clamping down on how much contact defenders make with receivers this season and the result has been an enormous increase in the number of flags thrown so far.
Through 33 preseason games (2 weeks), NFL officials have called 22.9 penalties per game, up 44.0% from last year at the same point.
The biggest reason for the increase are the so-called “points of emphasis” given to the league officials by the NFL.
Every season the NFL institutes a new set of points of emphasis. These are not necessarily rules changes but are instead old rules that the league feels the officials are not calling correctly, often enough, or consistently enough.
This year’s points of emphasis lean heavily on contact made by defensive backs, including contact beyond the 5-yard area and holding of receivers by defensive backs, even within the 5-yard contact area.
What we are seeing is an enormous number of penalties called on defenders making contact against potential receivers.
The NFL’ vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was a guest on ESPN radio and said that the increase in penalties is more about teams and players adjusting to the new rules and points of emphasis and that “the numbers will start to regulate as team’s adjust” later in the preseason and in the regular season.
However, the 44.0% increase suggests that even if there is a correction, penalties will still almost certainly be way up in the regular season.
Last year, the NFL’s regular season averaged 12.7 penalties per game, a 20.1% decrease from the preseason. If the NFL sees a similar decrease this year, they will average more than 18 penalties per game.
And those are just the penalties that are not declined!
While the increase in penalties will certainly drive fans nuts, the new points of emphasis do not appear to be having an impact on scoring.
Through 33 games, scoring in the preseason (39.5 points per game) is actually down slightly from last year (41.4 ppg) and up slightly from 2012 (38.6 ppg).
One reason that scoring may not be impacted is that the other points of emphasis is on the offensive side of the ball including wide receivers pushing off at the line of scrimmage and being more strict with false starts.
So while we can expect to hear the referee explaining penalties at an all-time level this year, it won’t necessarily translate to changes on the scoreboard.
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