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Friday, December 9, 2011
Digging deeper on the Lions' penalties

By Kevin Seifert

Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz has gone to great lengths this week to classify his team's penalty problems. He said Monday, in fact, that he is concerned about two kinds of penalties -- those that occur before the snap and after the whistle -- and has zeroed in on five of the latter as the source for national discussion about the Lions' discipline.

Jim Schwartz
The gamble by the Lions and coach Jim Schwartz to draft Jahvid Best hasn't worked out.
The implication has been that five penalties over the course of 12 games falls short of a systemic, program-wide issue. That characterization, however, glosses over some unflattering big-picture trends.

The Lions have committed an NFL-high 28 personal fouls this season, according to an ESPN Stats & Information analysis based on all qualifying penalties. That's seven more than the next-highest team, the Tennessee Titans. Overall, 25 of the NFL's 32 teams have committed 15 or fewer such penalties. Considered broadly, the Lions have been called for nearly twice as many personal fouls as a quorum of teams.

Since Schwartz began his tenure in 2009, meanwhile, the Lions have led the league in personal fouls and are second only to the Oakland Raiders in total penalties.

I'm well aware that statistical studies have found little correlation between penalty totals and winning percentage. But I think we can agree that 15-yard penalties, by their nature, exert a disproportionate impact on a game.

The five penalties Schwartz has focused on include:
"Obviously the last two weeks," Schwartz said, "we haven't done a very good job with that and it's been situations that have put the team in a bad position."

In reality, a 15-yard penalty for pushing a player after the whistle hurts the team precisely as much as a late quarterback hit, a horse collar or any other personal foul. They might emanate from different motivations -- Schwartz considers the five penalties in question to be "selfish" compared to others that result from aggression -- but that's of minimal consequence in terms of game impact.

I'm sure the Lions don't agree with every personal foul they've been called for this season. That's no different than any team. The truth is that they might absorb a few extra calls because of the reputation they've earned for aggressive play.

But if you eliminate all five of the penalties Schwartz is concerned with, the Lions would still lead the league in personal fouls. That alone suggests the problem runs deeper than a handful of mistakes over a course of a long season. Just my two cents.