One of the biggest concerns heading into 2013 is whether or not the Redskins can fix their penalty issues and what it could mean if they don't. Last season (including playoffs) the Redskins committed 119 accepted penalties (131 total including declined or offsetting penalties), and 1,000 penalty yards. Both the number and yardage were in the 5 worst in the league. This is something that needs to be fixed to improve the Redskins chances for sustained success.
For more on the Redskins check out these pair of articles:
Fixing the Redskins Penalty Problem | Area to Improve: Penalties
One thousand free yards that the Redskins gave up to their opponents is simply unacceptable. While obviously no team gives up 0 yards in penalties, the Redskins could have reasonably cut 200-300 of those yards out. That is a really significant amount of yards when you think about it. Five yards here or ten yards there doesn't seem like so much, but it really matters on a per play basis. If 1st and 10, is far more manageable than 1st and 15, and for the defense it is obviously reversed. Another thing to keep in mind is most defensive penalties end up resulting in an automatic first down, in addition to the free yardage. Even 5 yard penalties can completely change a drive. Take a look at a pair of examples from the first quarter of the Super Bowl:
49ers 1st drive:
First play of the drive Collin Kaepernick completes a 20 yard pass to Vernon Davis to the 40 yard line, for what should have been 1st and 10 from their own 40. Unfortunately they were called for an illegal formation 5 yard penalty. So instead of being 1st and 10 from the 40, it was 1st and 15 from the 15 yard line. The next three plays the 49ers gained a total of 3 yards and they were forced to punt. Despite a 50 yard punt, Jacoby Jones was in perfect position to return the ball and got 17 yards, setting up the Ravens 1st and 10 from their own 49 yard line and just 51 yards away from the end zone.
Had that penalty not occurred it could have been a far different outcome. Not only would the 49ers chances of at least a field goal would have been greatly increased once they got to that 40 yard line, but they would have turned field position in their favor. Even if the next three plays happened the same way they did from the 15 yard line and San Francisco only gained 3 yards, they would have punted from their own 43 yard line. If Andy Lee punted the ball 50 yards it would have gone to the 7 yard line. Even if Jones felt comfortable returning the ball from the 7 yard line (highly unlikely at that point in the game), his 17 yards would have only gotten the Ravens to their own 24 yard line and 76 yards away from the end zone.
On the Ravens drive they also benefited from another 5 yard penalty by the 49ers. After three plays got the Ravens to the 49ers 19 yard line, it appeared their drive stalled. Ray Rice ran for one yard on first down and then an incomplete pass on 2nd down, put them at 3rd and 9 from the 18 yard line. Flacco's pass intended to Dennis Pitta fell incomplete, which would have forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal. Unfortunately ILB Navarro Bowman was offsides on the play giving the Ravens another shot at 3rd and 4, at which point Flacco threw a TD strike to Anquan Boldin. That 5 yard penalty which didn't even result in a first down, ended up costing the 49ers 4 points, in a game that they lost by 3. (it was actually 5 points up until the safety at the end of the game, but obviously the 49ers could have kicked a FG to win the game as opposed to going for it on 4th and goal.)
While obviously not every penalty can have as big implications as that you never know when even the smallest infraction can have a major impact.
For the Redskins there biggest culprit was their offense as last year they committed a combined 70 penalties. Now most offenses typically lead the team in penalties, but usually not by a 21 penalty margin like the Redskins offense did. The Redskins committed 27 false start, 21 holding, 5 illegal block, and 4 intentional grounding penalties. All were above the league average, and some by quite a bit. The Redskins committed nearly 8 more false start penalties than the league average, that is essentially an extra false start every other game (the Redskins didn't have any in their post season game). There were just 30 intentional grounding penalties in the entire league through both the regular season and playoffs and the Redskins were responsible for 4 of them. Fifteen teams didn't even have an intentional grounding penalty. That is a big penalty because it is loss of yardage and a down. Though those penalties are charged to Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins it is pretty clear that they are the result of poor blocking.
While obviously not every holding or false start penalty is on the offensive line, most of them are, and when you add in a few of their other penalties this is obviously an area the Redskins have to improve this season. The Redskins tight ends also committed far too many penalties and need to cut down as well.
This undisciplined on offense, particularly among the offensive line and tight ends makes it harder for the Redskins to take the step that most people are expecting of them, and that is to go to more of a no huddle approach. While it would be ideal from a creative approach and for RGIII, the rest of the offense doesn't appear ready for it. Particularly if the Redskins try to go more up tempo/hurry up in their no huddle approach. If the Redskins were this unprepared while huddling and taking the time to get set right, they aren't going to fare well up tempo.
Even no huddle will likely be too much for them given those high false start numbers. If the Redskins couldn't get the snap count down in a huddle they probably aren't going to do better lining up in a formation and having the play changed on the fly.
With the Redskins employing the same starting offense, the only way they are going to improve in this area is to really make this a focal point in camp and the preseason. If the Redskins want their offense to improve and become more potent the penalties need to drop plain and simple.
What do you think? Will the Redskins again be plagued by penalties? Will it prevent them from implementing a more advanced no huddle attack?