How the Oakland Raiders Can Cure Themselves of the Penalty Problem
The Raiders committed 10 or more penalties in four out of the last five games to finish the season with 163 for 1,358 yards, both NFL records. The Raiders also lost four out of the last five games and missed the playoffs.
Every year, it is the same story for the Raiders when it comes to penalties. Just about every year, you'll hear about the Raiders leading the league or being among the top few teams in penalties. Different players with different coaches in different years, and the penalty problem remains.
What could be the reason the Raiders rank towards the top of the league in penalties?
Hypothesis A: The Raiders have a reputation and the team hasn't been able to escape their reputation for all these years.
Hypothesis B: Al Davis signed undisciplined players.
Hypothesis C: It's a conspiracy.
Hypothesis D: The Raiders just haven't had the right coach to solve the penalty issue.
Many fans believe the NFL has it out for the Raiders and there is or has been a mass conspiracy against the Raiders. Perhaps a conspiracy might make sense if Pete Rozelle and Al Davis were still feuding, but that is no longer the case.
If it was a conspiracy, the penalties should have subsided when the Raiders' iconic owner died last October. Maybe it wasn't Davis' presence, but the undisciplined players he signed.
It could be his Raiders are penalized more because they have a reputation for committing penalties, and now the reputation is so strong that it could take years to rehabilitate it.
To understand how to cure a disease, it is necessary to first understand it. Not all penalties are created equal.
The NFL doesn't do us any favors when it comes to analyzing penalty statistics. Thankfully, other fans and organizations have picked up the slack.
The Football Database tracks penalties and has a nice sortable list. There are some who believe there are certain penalties that could be called on every play, such as offensive holding and defensive pass interference. Others that could be included are defensive holding, illegal contact and offensive pass interference.
Football Database has the Raiders with 24 offensive holding penalties and 12 defensive pass interference penalties, 17 defensive holding penalties, six illegal contact penalties and one offensive pass interference penalty.
This means 60 of the Raiders' 163 penalties were one of these types. An average team in the NFL commits 33 such penalties.
Hypothesis A fans believe these types of penalties can be corrected, but it will take time to alter the team's penalty issue.
Hypothesis B fans believe these types of penalties will be corrected as Reggie McKenzie disposes of players signed by Al Davis in favor of cheaper, more disciplined ones.
Hypothesis C fans believe these types of penalties cannot be changed.
Hypothesis D fans believe that subjective penalties don't exist.
103 Raiders penalties were not one of the subjective types listed above. Offsides, false start, delay of game, personal fouls and other penalties should be preventable.
Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie can make improvements, but even bringing preventable penalties in-line with NFL averages will still be placing the Raiders toward the top of the league in penalties.
Solving the problem
The Raiders have to tackle the penalty issue from multiple angles. The Raiders penalties are probably a sum of all the variables we've listed. If w+x+y+z=penalties and reducing just one variable will not lower the overall total to an acceptable level, a multi-pronged approach is required.
Angle 1: Avoid the preventable.
Dennis Allen has to get his team to play more disciplined football. For the first time, the Raiders will have a coach with real power to impact a player and his standing on the team. Allen can cut playing time without any backlash from his boss. That hasn't been the case in the past.
Allen will also change the defensive scheme. The heavy man-to-man defense makes it too easy for the opposition to target the defensive backs in key situations. Allen will shift to a blitzing style and have the cornerbacks keep their eyes on the quarterback as much as they do the receiver.
The defensive lineman will not need to cheat as much because they will have extra help rushing the passer, and this should reduce the offsides penalties.
Angle 2: Release/replace undisciplined players.
McKenzie will not tolerate a player who can't avoid penalties. Working closely with Allen, McKenzie will know if the Raiders issues are preventable.
Should the penalty problems become bad enough, McKenzie will know which players he needs to replace. He may have already started, as the Raiders released cornerback Stanford Routt on Thursday.
Angle 3: Lobby the league.
It couldn't hurt the Raiders to develop relationships in the league office. McKenzie may already have a few connections and he should use those to foster positive relationships with league personnel.
Positive relationships with the league will ultimately trickle down to the officials. If reputation is the issue, the Raiders need to work to change it.
Angle 4: Don't play the victim.
The Raiders leadership can't buy into the fact that the Raiders are officiated differently than other teams. Even if it's true, the Raiders need to stop making themselves the victim.
Stop sending a long list of complaints to the league office about the officiating. It's compounding the problem.
The officials are less likely to throw a flag if they have positive feelings towards the team or coach. The Raiders must go out of their way to make sure the officials are not seeing or hearing negative things about the team.
Fostering good relationships with the officials includes not being on SportsCenter for the wrong reasons.
Amy Trask did an excellent job last season of making sure CBS showed families attending the games in Oakland instead of the typical "guy in a costume" camera shots. More initiatives aimed at creating a positive image of the Raiders will go to helping clean up the penalty issue.
The heart of the fanbase should remain unchanged, but it doesn't hurt to sand off the sharp edges when presenting it to the world.
It's clear the Raiders need a more comprehensive approach to correcting the penalty issue. Many before McKenzie have underestimated the problem, but McKenzie has quickly demonstrated that he know what needs to be done to get the problem corrected.
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