NFL Nation: NFC West penalty watch

Officials flagged the Seattle Seahawks for illegal contact an NFL-high eight times in 2011.

That comes as no surprise to those familiar with the aggressive, controversial tactics Seattle's big cornerbacks employ.

Here is the surprise: Brandon Browner's penalty for illegal contact during the Seahawks' 24-14 playoff victory Sunday was just the second of its kind against Seattle all season.

Officials also flagged cornerback Jeremy Lane for illegal contact in Week 17.

The Seahawks' divisional-round playoff opponent, Atlanta, incurred a league-low 68 penalties this season, counting declined ones. But even the Falcons suffered more penalties for illegal contact (two) than the Seahawks incurred during the regular season.

Seattle also reduced its penalties for defensive pass interference from last season. Those dropped from 10 last season to five this season.

The chart ranks NFC West teams and their divisional-round opponents by fewest accepted and declined penalties during the regular season.

NFC West penalty watch: 49ers-Hawks ref

December, 24, 2011
SEATTLE -- Veteran referee Ron Winter gets the call for the San Francisco 49ers' game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

My periodic efforts to find meaning in officiating stats have led to the following chart. Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information provided the officiating data.

I singled out some of the more regularly called penalties and sorted them for Winter based on where his crew ranks in number of such penalties called this season.

For example, Winter's crews have called 16 penalties for delay of game, most in the league. But his crew has called only two penalties for roughing the passer. That ranks 15th out of 17 crews this season.

Winter ranks relatively low in calls for pass interference and illegal contact. That is something to keep in mind for this game. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner leads the league in penalties, with many for infractions during coverage.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Yardage leaders

December, 11, 2011
Officials have not flagged Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson since calling a 20-yard interference penalty against him in Week 11.

San Francisco was the opponent that day. The 49ers are the opponent Sunday.

Peterson's matchup with the 49ers' Michael Crabtree will be one to watch after Crabtree caught seven passes for 120 yards against the Cardinals in Week 11.

The chart shows Peterson ranking second behind Seattle's Brandon Browner in penalty yardage this season. Browner, like Peterson, is an aggressive corner. They appear willing to trade flags for tight coverage that can take a receiver off his game.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Flags flying

October, 7, 2011
It's been a rough first four games for NFC West teams in the penalty department, and not just in the tripping department.

Officials have flagged teams from the division 153 times, assessing penalties covering 1,054 yards. The other divisions average 118 penalties and 835 penalty yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No division has as many in either category.

The totals count declined penalties.

The chart below shows all 14 NFL players with at least five declined and assessed penalties this season. Five of them play for NFC West teams.

On a side note, penalties for unnecessary roughness are on the rise, with 57 having been called through the first four weeks of the season. There were 25 through the first four games of the 2007 season. That number has risen to 37 (2008), 41 (2009), 53 (2010) and now 57.

I doubt players have gotten any rougher unnecessarily. Officials are likely calling these penalties more aggressively. Calls for unsportsmanlike conduct are also up. There have been 17 through four games this season, up from an average of nine at this point in the previous four seasons.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Okung's triple

September, 15, 2011
NFL officials flagged Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung three times in 10 games last season.

They matched that total against Okung in the 2011 opener at Candlestick Park.

The high total confirms in my mind the thinking that Okung wasn't quite up to speed in his first game back from an ankle injury. He was also facing a very strong San Francisco 49ers defensive front featuring Justin Smith, who had two sacks. One penalty was declined. Another was offsetting.

Facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 will present similar challenges (insert Bill Leavy joke here). Even though the Steelers struggled in their opening-week defeat at Baltimore, their defense was instrumental in drawing three penalties against the Ravens' offensive line. Officials flagged center Matt Birk, guard Ben Grubbs and tackle Bryant McKinnie for holding in that game.

Officials flagged Okung for holding (twice) and a false start. Okung's three penalties last season were for false starts, with two coming during the second half of a 34-18 home defeat against Atlanta in Week 15.

The first chart shows three-year totals for NFC West teams, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Totals count declined penalties.

The Oakland Raiders have the most during that time with 320, counting a league-high 17 in Week 1. The 49ers rank sixth with 260, followed by the Arizona Cardinals (254) and St. Louis Rams (254). The Seahawks are 15th with 234. The Falcons (176), Indianapolis Colts (177) and Jacksonville Jaguars (184) have the fewest.

Officials have flagged NFC West teams 999 times, more than they've flagged teams from any other division. AFC East teams have drawn the fewest (828).


The second chart shows NFC West individual leaders for 2011. Officials have flagged five players from the division more than once.