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Throwback Thursday: Washington's Penalty Woes

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Those little yellow flags sure can do a lot of damage.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Fight for Old D.C.: Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2014 season

The burgundy and gold were fast friends with the little yellow handkerchief last season.  Washington tied Baltimore for the 8th most penalties in 2014 at 120, and the Redskins actually finished with a higher number of penalty yards (1,129).  To set up a comparison to the first game of the this season, we need to look at both the first game of last season (a 6-17 loss at Houston) and the first home game of last season (a 41-10 win over Jacksonville).  In Week 1, the Redskins tallied 7 penalties for a total of 70 yards, putting them firmly in the middle of the pack and tied with Denver.  They were assessed 3 offensive penalties for 30 yards, 3 defensive penalties for 30 yards, and 1 special teams penalty for 10 yards.  In the first home game, which was Week 2, things went downhill as the team earned their highest penalty count for the season (11), though not their highest yardage.  The had 98 penalty yards that week, compared to 131 yards against Philadelphia in Week 3.  Special teams did the most damage in the Week 2 game with 5 penalties for 43 yards.

Considering the shift from Mike Shanahan to Jay Gruden for 2014, I can’t say anyone really expected the penalties to decrease.  Shanahan, after all, is seen as the bigger discipline guy out of the two, and Gruden was so busy trying to be a first time head coach, play caller, and Griffin-manager that something had to give.  But, the tone seemed to be set, and many fans, myself included, continued to throw our hands up in the air as we sat at FedEx field and in front of our TVs and watched the silly little yellow flags pile up at an average of 7.5 every Sunday.

Modern State of Affairs: Miami vs. Washington on September 17, 2015

Last Sunday, penalties again put a damper on the team’s chances of success.  Washington tied Buffalo for the second highest number of penalties and matched their season high from last year with 11 penalties which cost them 88 yards.  The yardage wasn’t as evenly divided this time around as it was in Week 1 of 2014, though.  The offense wracked up 9 penalties for a total of 70 yards, leaving Cousins and company with long third downs, like 3-29 and 3-24.  The defense faired a little better, costing the team only 18 yards on 2 penalties.  Most surprisingly, however, was that the most maligned unit on the team did the least damage.  Special teams, which averaged 1.5 penalties a game last year, earned no penalties in the home opener against Miami.

And the winner is…

honestly, neither.  We all know penalties on other teams get missed and refs can make bad calls against our players, but when a team is historically bad, finishing in last place in the division for the past hundred and one years (or so it seems…), they can’t afford sloppy football and penalty calls.  The best teams in the league last year, New England, Seattle, Green Bay, and Indianapolis, averaged 6.6, 7.2, 5.4, and 6.4 penalties per game, respectively.  Jacksonville was last in the league in number of penalties, averaging only 4.3 per game.  This game is as much a mental sport as a physical one, and until the team becomes more disciplined and stops hurting themselves, fans are in for a long season.