Unforced Errors: Penalties Are a Killer

Jim Caldwell was not my favorite NFL coach. 

That’s putting it mildly. 

Let’s just say I pretty much despised the way he coached on the sidelines each week. 

Nevertheless, Jim Caldwell’s teams had one thing that Chuck Pagano could take a page from: penalties. 

 The Colts have already had issues this season with penalties, and this week’s loss to Jacksonville was directly affected by several of them. 

To put this in perspective, let’s compare this team to last year’s (bad, but coached by Caldwell) team. 

The 2011 Colts had the fewest penalties in the league with 76 penalties for 549 yards. Through three games they had earned just 11 penalties for 71 yards. 

Through three games, the 2012 Colts have earned 21 penalties for 176 yards. 


Now, the replacement official effect should be taken into account here, but looking at the numbers, there isn’t a very significant difference in the number of penalties the officials are calling than the regular officials (their calling less than 2% more right now than last year’s pace)

If you take a look at the Colts’ loss against the Jaguars, you can see several calls in the second half alone that clearly affected the game’s outcome. 

  • In the first drive of the third quarter, Donald Brown took a draw play 10 yards behind the right tackle, but the play was called back on a holding penalty on Seth Olsen. Olsen had blocked a guy to the ground, and then held his arm back with one hand as he tried to get up. At that point, Brown was through the hole, and it was unlikely that a defensive lineman was going to catch him from behind. It was a silly penalty that did not in any way need to be committed. The penalty put the Colts in 2nd and 20, which the offense couldn’t overcome, and had to punt.
  • On the Jaguars final drive of the third quarter, there were several Colt penalties that allowed the Jaguars to keep moving, and finally score a touchdown. The first was an offsides call on Mathis, negating a good stop on a Jones-Drew run, and giving the Jaguars a free down. Later in the drive, Vontae Davis was called TWICE for pass interference, contributing 30 yards to the Jaguars’ drive, including the final one that set the Glitter Kitties up with a first and goal. 
  • After the touchdown, the Colts committed a holding penalty (Mario Harvey) on the ensuing kickoff, pushing them back 13 yards from where the return ended. The drive stalled on the Jaguars 13. 
  • After that drive stalled, the Colts were called for a delay of game penalty on the field goal attempt, pushing them back five yards. The 36-yard kick was literally inches away from being above the upright, and therefore good. With the extra five yards, or the 12 from the beginning of the drive, the kick (as was) would have been good. 
  • After the defense forced a three-and-out, Dwayne Allen and Mewelde Moore both committed holding penalties, taking 20 yards away from the Colts. The Colts were faced with a third-and-20 after the Moore penalty, failed to convert, and were forced to punt. 

Now, obviously it’s easy to play the “What if?” game after the fact, but it’s plain to see that the Colts received penalties at crucial points in the game, which affected not only the Jaguars comeback, but obstructed the Colts from coming back themselves. No matter what may have happened, it would have been a different scenario. 

I like Chuck Pagano. I think he’s a good motivator, and players like him and buy into what he’s saying. It leads for a more unified and driven team.

But, so far this season, the Colts’ in-game evidence of good coaching (adjustments, playcalling, and on-field discipline) has been lacking. The coaches HAVE to focus  on this throughout the bye week. The Colts had 11 penalties in the Minnesota game alone, and when it’s so closely affecting the game in one as close as this week’s contest was, it’s concerning. 

The Colts will be pressed to win games this season anyway, and having issues like that is severely hampering that ability. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.