San Francisco 49ers

No conspiracy: 49ers’ penalty issues are hardly unique in flag-filled ’14

Ahmad Brooks San Francisco 49ers

I started writing this post immediately after watching the Bears take an early 14-0 lead over the Jets last night. The Bears recovered a muffed punt at the Jets’ 40, and Jay Cutler threw a long pass on first down in the direction of Alshon Jeffery, who was covered closely by Darrin Walls along the right sideline. Cutler underthrew Jeffery, who hooked his arm around Walls’ arm. As the ball approached, the two spun around together and Walls was flagged for pass interference. It should’ve been offensive pass interference or no call at all. Instead, Cutler’s mediocre pass earned was rewarded by the officials, who placed the ball at the Jets’ 7-yard line. The Bears scored on a touchdown throw to Martellus Bennett three plays later.

Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson was penalized for roughing the passer on the touchdown, as he collided with Cutler after the pass. The collision was decidedly minor, with Richardson’s intent clearly to avoid instead of maim. He kept his arms up, tried to minimize impact as much as possible, but it didn’t matter — 15 yards, assessed on the kickoff.

One penalty was a 33-yard mistake, the other was a borderline call that ended up being meaningless (all the Jets really lost was a chance to return a kick past the 20).

Why am I bringing up the Bears/Jets game (where the two teams ended up combining for 15 penalties that accounted for 173 yards)? Because this idea that the officials are targeting the 49ers to a harsher degree than everyone else isn’t true, although players like Anquan Boldin feel like they’re being unfairly singled out.

“For me, it’s been obvious the last two weeks the amount of calls that have gone against us and the amount of calls that we’ve gotten,” Boldin said. “It hasn’t been close. And every week it’s the same thing.

“You send the tape in, and the NFL just reports back, ‘We made a mistake.’ But at the same time, the crap is costing us games. At some point, they need to be held accountable.”

The 49ers lead the NFL in penalties committed through three games with 36. But other teams have been penalized for more yards. Seriously, it’s true.

Total Penalties

1. Baltimore: 12
1. New Orleans: 12
3. Miami: 13
4. Kansas City: 14
5. Oakland: 15
5. Jacksonville: 15

32. San Francisco: 36
31. Pittsburgh: 31
30. New England: 30
29. Washington: 28
28. Tennessee: 28

Penalty yards

1. Oakland: 93
2. New Orleans: 96
2. Baltimore: 96
4. Kansas City: 110
5. Miami: 111

32. New England: 322
31. St. Louis: 305
31. San Francisco: 305
29. Washington: 299
28. NY Jets: 265

A major reason why the 49ers aren’t in front of the pack in penalty yards is because they’ve only been called for defensive pass interference once for 21 yards. The Patriots have been called for defensive PI three times for 82 yards, the Rams twice for 59.

Net Yards (opponents’ penalty yardage minus own penalty yardage)

1. Oakland: 156
2. Minnesota: 152
3. Kansas City: 136
4. Chicago: 125
5. Dallas: 122

32. St. Louis: -200
31. New England: -189
30. Tennessee: -144
29. Buffalo: -142
28. Washington: -140
27. San Francisco: -139

***

So all these ideas about an NFL conspiracy are completely overblown. Just ask the Rams and Patriots. Officials are throwing flags whenever anything even slightly untoward occurs or looks to have occurred, as they follow the NFL’s new doctrine: increase the offense and decrease future liability.

Being aware of this new, highly punitive landscape — as everyone with an NFL job surely is — doesn’t soothe the 49ers, who’ve surrendered 17 first downs via penalty (the most in the league by far) and squandered several offensive chances with ill-timed flags. A good way to stop that trend might be to look at the penalties they’re committing most often. According to NFLPenalties.com, the 49ers lead the league in offensive holding penalties (seven), illegal contact (five), illegal use of hands (five) and unnecessary roughness (five). They and the Lions are the only teams to get flagged for clipping, too.

Somehow they don’t lead the league in delaying games … by themselves, anyway. They’ve been flagged twice for letting the play clock hit zero, just like the Falcons, Bears, Bengals and Raiders.

***

In case you’re wondering, the Seahawks are in the middle of the pack on just about everything: 19 penalties (T-18th), 156 penalty yards (15th), -11 net yards (19th). They have one pass interference penalty (44 yards) and no illegal contact calls have gone against them.

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