Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequent Penalties Not A Concern For Redskins Early In Season
ASHBURN – When Joshua Morgan threw the football at Cortland Finnegan on Sunday, drawing a flag and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the Washington Redskins’ loss at St. Louis, it magnified just how costly penalties can be toward winning a game.
The receiver’s actions backed the Redskins up from a potential fourth-and-short conversion with 1:29 remaining in the game to a wildly unmanageable 62-yard field goal attempt that Billy Cundiff predictably missed wide right and short.
Any one of the 130 plays in the game could have theoretically led to the Redskins’ 31-28 defeat – an incomplete pass or a missed tackle, for example. Washington, though, was in position to possibly at least tie the score before Morgan reacted to an extra shove after the whistle by the Rams cornerback.
“Especially with the [way] coach Mike Shanahan is, none of us are dumb enough to make the same mistake twice – whether it’s the play like I made or just making the same mistake, messing up a play or getting an assignment wrong,” Morgan said. “You never make the mistake twice, and I think that’s why Coach Shanahan’s got the people we got here because we’ve got that type of character and the mindset that all it takes is one time to mess everything up.”
Or, more accurately, nearly two dozen times. The Redskins have been called for a league-leading 23 penalties and allowed 223 yards in their first two games – a pace that, if sustained, would shatter league records with 184 penalties for 1,784 yards. Oakland drew 163 penalties for 1,358 yards last season.
Topping those numbers is unlikely to happen. The last time a team coached by Shanahan finished amongst the top half of the league in penalties was in 2003, when Denver ranked 14th after it drew 107 flags.
The Redskins were called for 91 penalties last season, putting them 25th, though the 897 yards sacrificed on those calls was the 12th-highest total in the league. And in Shanahan’s first year, the Redskins incurred 90 penalties for 647 yards, ranking them 18th and 28th, respectively.
“We’re a very disciplined football team,” Shanahan said. “I’m not saying we didn’t make penalties, but it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.”
Two, Shanahan immediately recalled, were holding calls against left guard Kory Lichtensteiger against New Orleans that he easily disputed. Another, in the same game, was for an illegal kick downfield – a situation that only arose because Nick Sundberg snapped the ball with a broken left arm, sending it low and to the right, and Sav Rocca had to roll out and try a rugby-style punt to avoid a massive loss of yards as protection broke down.
Three other penalties were personal fouls for late hits, one was for illegal use of hands to the face and another, an offsides call against Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen against St. Louis, clearly should have been a false start on Rams center Robert Turner.
In all, 18 of the 23 penalties have been called against different players, and only four players have been whistled for more than one.
“[Sometimes] you hope that it will be a bang-bang play and the flag won’t be called, but it is what it is,” said free safety Madieu Williams, who has been penalized twice this season. “You’ve just got to learn from that and make sure that when you’re in that situation again, use better judgment.”
Lichtensteiger has been penalized twice for holding, regardless of the merit, in addition to a false start against the Rams. Left tackle Trent Williams has been called for each penalty once.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said the offensive line hasn’t been instructed to be particularly clean with its technique because of the replacement officials, but Williams said their presence, and potentially an untrained eye, does magnify their play.
“They had a couple calls that when you look on film – we got to rewind and fast forward and slow down and you know, some of them don’t look to be as big a deal as they look to make it,” Williams said. “But you know, if they call it, it’s holding.”
Then again, maybe the Redskins should be a bit more careless. The most-penalized team Shanahan has ever coached was called for 116 penalties for a total of 1,006 yards – and that was in 1997, the year his Broncos won the first of two Super Bowls.
“We’ve just got to be smart,” Madieu Williams said. “There’s a difference between being aggressive and also creating penalties that would be hurtful to the team. Coaches always stress being aggressive but being smart, and that’s one thing that we’ve got to do a better [job] of with all the penalties that we’ve had.”