NFC West: Benjamin Lerner
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Our earlier item on dirty players leads naturally to a discussion of dirty teams.
Years ago, the Oakland Raiders of Jack Tatum, George Atkinson and Skip "Dr. Death" Thomas seemed to revel in their image as renegades. Their reputation became part of the mythology of the game, backed by menacing NFL Films soundtracks.
Let's rely on something more tangible for this discussion: personal-foul data. ESPN researchers produced a comprehensive list of personal-foul totals since 2001, allowing us to sort them by team, coach and player.
The data showed 3,221 personal-foul penalties during regular-season games since 2001, an average of about 100 per team. Officials have flagged Tampa Bay with more personal-foul penalties than any team during this time (127), followed closely by Arizona and Detroit with 124 apiece. Officials have flagged Seattle with 57, by far the fewest in the league. Houston, which entered the league in 2002, is next with 71.
Arizona has employed more than its share of personal-foul violators since 2001. Safety Adrian Wilson leads the NFL with 17 personal-foul penalties during that time. Also since 2001, linebacker Chike Okeafor leads the NFL with eight roughing-the-passer penalties, and former Cardinals pass rusher Kyle Vanden Bosch ranks tied for 14th with five. (Note: Okeafor and Vanden Bosch committed some of those fouls while wearing other uniforms).
One of our researchers, Benjamin Lerner, looked at which teams have benefited from the most -- and least -- personal-foul penalties called against their opponents. Those numbers might tell us about perceptions. If Team A was known for dirty play, as an example, might officials subconsciously call fewer personal-foul penalties against Team A's opponents?
We cannot answer such a question, but it's a fun thought in July. Back with those numbers in a bit.