The Tennessee Titans can’t afford to be penalized frequently in 2017.
When thinking of areas in which the Tennessee Titans must improve to make the playoffs in 2017, the wide receiver position and the secondary unit will probably be front and center in many fans’ thoughts. Rightfully so, as the team more than likely would have won the division if their receivers and cornerbacks had played better last season. Many will overlook the area that I’m about to mention, but it’s an important aspect of football that must be taken seriously.
The Titans need to cut down on their penalties and not be flagged as often as they were last season. It’s easy to gloss over the thought, but coaches preach clean football from peewee to the professional level. Head coaches usually speak in cliches, but being penalized constantly puts your team in bad positions and can cost you games.
In 2016, the Titans were penalized 6.9 times per game, which isn’t an overly nice number. That ranked 22nd in the league. The teams worse than them in this area accumulated a combined 78-80-2. That overall number isn’t terrible by any means, but the Oakland Raiders, who committed the most penalties per game by a large margin, were among the luckiest teams in the NFL last season. They are destined for negative regression this season, as are teams like the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, who ranked 27th and 28th, respectively.
This isn’t to say that if a team doesn’t commit many penalties they’ll win more games. The Titans committed the second-fewest penalties per game in 2015 and went 3-13. But take a gander at the New England Patriots, who have ranked in the top 5 in fewest penalties per game over the last two seasons. The Patriots are always well-coached and disciplined and are seemingly in the AFC Championship game every season.
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The main culprits for the Titans last season were Taylor Lewan with 12, Quinton Spain with eight, Brice McCain with seven, Delanie Walker with five, and five by way of team penalties. Lewan can easily cut down some of his just by tempering his fire and Spain can remedy his four false start penalties. Playing cornerback in today’s NFL is tough, but McCain can’t be getting flagged seven times per season, although it probably won’t happen this season again as he won’t play as much (due to the additions of Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson). This is one area that can be corrected with relative ease, in contrast to a revamped defense that will take some time to gel.
If you’re like me, then you lived through the Jeff Fisher years. Fisher conjured up some very good seasons, but his teams were always lacking discipline and committed penalties at inopportune times. A team that commits too many penalties, especially in important situations, can set themselves back in the midst of big games. A five-yard false start penalty on first down puts you behind the sticks before you even get a chance to get 10 yards with three downs. A defensive penalty on third down after you get a stop to bail out an opposing offense is a killer, both physically and mentally.
The correlation between a low number of penalties and wins isn’t quite established, but I’d bet that Mike Mularkey is preaching it in the locker room.