The Preseason’s Yellow Menace: Penalties


Ed Hochuli

Shhh… now, now… the yellow flags will go away… give it time.

If you have taken a moment to watch a minute of NFL preseason action, I am willing to bet you saw a flag thrown. This preseason has been riddled with mental errors and seemingly an inability to follow the most basic of rules resulting in a number of preseason penalties.

Last night alone, the Eagles and Steelers combined for 27 penalties, which is quite a bit when you consider that over the 2013 regular season, the average was only 14 per game. One particular Eagles’ possession saw Philadelphia score touchdowns on two separate occasions before ultimately missing a field goal because each was called back by a yellow flag. That possession occurred early in the fourth quarter, but nonetheless, teams and fans want to see cleaner football regardless of who is in.

Well, we will see it. Give it time.

As previously mentioned, the average number of flags thrown per game last regular season was 14. This preseason? 23.1. This is a problem, right?

Not really… it could be, but this is a storyline that is being a little exaggerated. In an article on by Gregg Rosenthal, the NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was quoted saying that he wasn’t surprised by the increase and thought it would return to normal values by the regular season.

“We expected it. I think there’s an adjustment period for out officials, for the coaches and our players,” Blandino said Thursday night on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access Postgame. “When the regular season rolls around, I think everybody will be on the same page and I think you’ll see those foul totals go down.”


The preseason is not only a warm-up period for the players, but also for the officials. This means they are getting “back into the swing of things” in terms of making calls, but they are also trying to set the tone for what will be called come the regular season.

The NFL, for years now, has been shifting to a pass-happy league. One of the main reasons for this is because the NFL saw the value of becoming more “exciting” with lots of points and the suspense of watching the ball leave the television screen through the air without a clue who it is going to. They saw this value, aka money, and began making adjustments to how the game was called from an officiating perspective and now you have the league we know and love today, complete with secondaries having to work harder than ever to guard of some of the most talented athletes in the world.

You know this already.

This preseason, compared to the 2013 regular season, has seen a tremendous jump in penalties called on the defensive secondary because this shift continues with even more emphasis on calling penalties for defensive holding or pass interference. In 2013, there was an average of 0.9 flags per game for defensive holding. This preseason there is an average of 3.4 per game. Penalties against defenses, in general, have increased as there were 5.6 flags called on defenses per game in 2013 with 10.6 per game this preseason. The officials are being tasked with being a little more nit-picky than years past and are essentially giving players an opportunity to figure out where they will be drawing the line when the games matter. This, of course, isn’t to say that officials will suddenly start ignoring half the penalties they could call, but you shouldn’t see the “grey-area” calls as much. Hopefully this will bring the penalties per game back down to 13-16.

It is just important to remember that this isn’t a long-term thing… or at least it shouldn’t be. This sort of thing happens every preseason with officials and players sort of feeling each other out on what will and won’t be called. In the meantime, fans may have to watch more football like this as the preseason concludes.

Another consideration is there are countless players playing for their jobs and I would imagine with that much on the line it is common to take risks, which must account for a decent portion of preseason penalties. That is merely an observation on my part, but it needs to play some role as you see penalty-riddled games particularly once the starters are pulled.

So, just have hope. It will get better. The games will flow once more with only the occasional yellow flag. You’ll probably disagree with the call, as usual, and things will be back to normal. You can yell at the television and then smile to yourself knowing things are back to normal… or however you would want to celebrate an average number of called penalties.

But hey… this is better than debating the effectiveness of “replacement officials”, right?


Author: Blaine

Share This Post On

Written content and the Football Fan Source logos are copyright of Football Fan Source ©. Images found on this site are, unless otherwise stated, courtesy of official NFL team sites and attributed to their source. They are used in accordance with Section 17 of Copyright law, which specify Fair Use of Copyright Material. Images on this site are used as a way to educate, report on stories, set the stage for commentary and to promote the source from which they came, which upholds this site's mission of being a powerful source for everything NFL. While the written content itself is our product that we try to sell to readers, the images are not being commercialized and are used within the boundaries of Fair Use.