(Another in a series of posts circling back on the 2012 season and some of our preseason themes.)
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz halted one of the training camp practices I covered last summer to, uh, remind players that he would have a low tolerance level for the kind of penalties they committed far too often the previous years.
In fact, the 2011 Lions were called for 146 penalties and had 128 accepted -- the third-highest total in the NFL. Cornerback Chris Houston said the issue had "definitely" been an emphasis in the Lions' 2012 training camp and added: "Coach has been more on guys if they jump offsides or make dumb penalties."
So it's worth noting that the Lions dropped their penalty total in 2012 by about 15 percent, and their 103 accepted penalties ranked No. 19 in the NFL. The chart shows how each NFC North team fared in this department, and you'll note the Lions weren't even the most-penalized team in the division if you add penalties that were also declined. That distinction shifted to the Green Bay Packers. (The league uses accepted penalties for its official rankings.)
The Lions' accomplishment amid a 4-12 season reinforces the generally accepted theory that penalty totals aren't directly correlated to wins and losses over the course of a season. But fewer is better than the alternative, and the Minnesota Vikings' total of 90 accepted penalties fits their season narrative of playing efficient, relatively mistake-free football en route to a 10-6 record. Only four teams had fewer penalties accepted against them.
Of course, anyone who watched the Lions over the course of the season knows they still struggled at times with the kind of pre-snap penalties Houston referred to in training camp. According to the ESPN Stats & Information database, the Lions were called for a total of 46 such penalties, including:
20 false starts
11 defensive offside
Seven neutral zone infractions