Will Penalties Haunt the Carolina Panthers?

One of the biggest things that killed momentum for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, outside of Von Miller, were penalties. The Panthers had made several big plays throughout the game in key situations to only be brought back by a penalty. It’s been pretty evident the trend has continued three weeks into the 2016 season. Looking at NFLPenalties.com, this is not a common trend made by these Panthers.

Carolina Panthers Penalties Per Game

Before Super Bowl 50, the Panthers averaged only six penalties per game for an average total of 53 yard per game in their previous 18 games during 2015. That was good for the 11th lowest team in the NFL in per game penalties. Minnesota committed the fewest with 5.29 penalties per game for 49.5 yards, so the Panthers weren’t that far behind.

The trouble starts in the aforementioned Super Bowl 50 where the Panthers had 12 penalties for 102 yards. That’s really high if you didn’t notice. Carolina is averaging 9.5 penalties per game for 75.5 yards in their last four contests. In just 2016 the Panthers are currently ranked 5th most with an average of 8.6 penalties per game for 66.6 yards. Not necessarily what you like to hear.

 

YEARRANKPENALTIES PER GAMEPENALTY YARDS PER GAME
20116th Most7.0663.31
201211th Fewest6.1352.19
20136th Fewest5.1843.76
20144th Fewest5.3348.39
201512th Fewest6.4755.74

Carolina has been on the positive side of the league in penalties since Rivera’s first season.  In fact, you can see they were actually improving since the 2011 season up until last season where ironically they finished 17-2 including a trip to the Super Bowl. As expected, this would follow similarly in overall penalties each season as well with only the NFL ranking changing a little.

TOTAL PENALTIES PER SEASON

YEARRANKTOTAL PENALTIESTOTAL PENALTY YARDS
20118th Most1131,013
20128th Fewest98835
20137th Fewest88744
20146th Fewest96871
20157th Most1231,059

So you know, Carolina has had it’s share of penalties go their way over the years as well. In two of the past five seasons the Panthers have been the beneficiaries of more calls than they’ve been penalized themselves. In the other three seasons the largest difference is 15.

GOOD NEWS

Penalties can be fixed. They are frustrating to watch unfold like they did against the Vikings, but they can be fixed.

In two of the first four games of 2015 the Panthers had ten penalties for 88 yards or more. After that, they never went above eight (hit eight only three times) until the Super Bowl. So there’s a chance they are committing early season mental mistakes again and it will all iron itself out.

BAD NEWS

Obviously the biggest difference between this season and last season is that through the three games the Panthers were 3-0. This season they have started 1-2. It seems like the penalties are happening more now after key conversions

Carolina seems to struggle more in this area when it comes to top tier physical defenses. The last two meetings against Denver have resulted in 85 penalty yards or more. Last week against a Vikings defense that came in leading the NFL in sacks, the Panthers surrendered 10 penalties but only at the tune of 65 yards. But again, it was where those penalties occurred that hurt the most. Both of these teams are top five defenses that can get to the passer. Six of the ten called last week were holding calls.

OVERALL

Looking at the figures above, it would seem that penalties don’t necessarily affect the outcome of your entire season. To an extent that is true, the team must take advantage of certain situations when they get into the red zone and come away with points. At the same time, however, we have seen what they can cause after the start of this season and more importantly in Super Bowl 50. Sorry if you think I’m beating that drum too much, but it was over 100 yards and 12 penalties. You just can’t have that and expect to win.

It was frustrating to also watch some missed calls not go our way this season as well, particularly to me was last week. I thought on of Cam’s eight sacks (ouch) there should have been a horse collar when he was drug down by the top of his name plate and illegal hands to the face on the safety sack. The hands to the face call was close, but the horse collar was blatant and both or either would have been automatic first downs. Remember after that safety is when everything went down hill.

Cam Newton told reporters yesterday that mistakes last season were plentiful but winning helped masked that. This is very true, winning masks everything. But right now the Panthers are 1-2 and a loss against the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons this Sunday could make the rest of the way an up hill climb. Penalties like last week aren’t going to help that any.