Despite the many tactical and rule changes the game of football has seen since its inception, a common theme has prevailed in that the most disciplined team usually has the best chance of winning a football game. And on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers once again were not that team.
One would have to go back to November 13, 2016 for the last time Green Bay was penalized 12 times in a single contest. Much like the Packers’ ugly 31-23 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the game two years ago also resulted in a humiliating defeat, a final score of 47-25 at the hands of the Tennessee Titans.
For the Packers of 2018, this was a new low in what has been a simply excruciating season filled with yellow pieces of cloth. Green Bay ranks just behind Pittsburgh and Kansas City for most penalties in the NFL in the early going with 43 total penalties for a whopping 413 total yards. But really, it was just two weeks ago that Green Bay was penalized 11 times on the road in Washington. While it has not been pretty regardless of location, the Packers’ first two road games have now resulted in a combined 23 flags for 227 yards.
Rightly so, the Packers have been criticized for getting off to slow starts this season and struggling to close games on defense. But of the Packers 43 penalties in five games this season, 11 have been called in the first quarter and 20 in the fourth quarter. Those totals certainly are not a recipe for success for starting and finishing a football game. At Detroit, Green Bay continued to struggle in those quarters, committing half of its penalties in those two 15-minute segments.
The timing and impact of those penalties loomed notably large against the Lions.
On Sunday, a staggering five penalties came from special teams. While Mason Crosby’s field goal woes provided the storyline on a gloomy day, the errors masked Green Bay’s slew of return penalties that ruined the field position battle and wiped out a long kickoff return from Ty Montgomery. Later, a roughing the kicker penalty from Kevin King on an extra point attempt played a pivotal role in a horrendous ensuing kickoff that saw the Packers start the drive from within their own 15-yard line. Putting the icing on the cake was an offsides penalty on the onside kick attempt in the closing seconds. Green Bay’s inability to consistently get three-and-outs on defense has been a disadvantage this season and special teams penalties only increased that struggle on Sunday.
Speaking of defense, Green Bay did make a crucial third-down stand midway through the fourth quarter. But an impressive defensive pass breakup from Tony Brown was negated by Brown’s own taunting call that not only left the Packer defense on the field, but led to the Lions’ put-away scoring drive. That was just one of Green Bay’s hideous four penalties of the personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct variety on Sunday.
While not a personal foul, Aaron Rodgers also committed a 16-yard intentional grounding penalty in the second quarter as the team faced a game-changing third-and-goal situation. The distance would end up playing a significant role in a third missed Mason Crosby field goal. Although the offense limited its penalties to just three in the game, the Rodgers’ miscue proved costly.
In the end, penalties, especially the 15-yard types, often come down to coaching. For the Packers, discipline-related penalties have been an ongoing struggle. During the 2016 season, Green Bay was second in the league with seven unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. While the Packers controversially lead the league in roughing the passer penalties this season with five, there have been several rightly called. It is alarming that such technical issues persist from season to season.
In his post-game press conference, Head Coach Mike McCarthy alluded to the dissatisfaction with penalties and mental mistakes. “At the end of the day it’s about winning ball,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t do enough to win today. We’ll focus on the things that went wrong that we can control and we had too many of those today.”
It is not time to hit the panic button yet, but another week cannot go by without McCarthy and his staff indeed focusing on the team’s penalty blues.