Philadelphia Eagles: How Penalties on 3rd Down Impacted the 2011 Season | Eagles Addict

As a supplement to my previous article about the Philadelphia Eagles getting back to the basics, I wanted to throw in some penalty statistics that may be of interest…or concern.

A reader brought up a point about getting killed with penalties on third-down last year that either kept the opponent’s drive alive, or thwarted our own drive.  Since I can remember that penalties were, in fact, a problem, I thought that would be an interesting thing to look up.

Andy Reid and a Referee


Penalties are a part of the game, but I still find it frustrating, and at the same time, interesting, how penalties can alter the outcome of a game.  Especially when they happen on third-down.

Well, after some vigorous Google searches and perusals of several sites that keep stats, I came away disappointed that I couldn’t find any site that tracked such a thing.  Therefore, I had to do it the old-fashioned way and sift through every game’s play-by-play.

I only looked for defensive penalties that occurred on third-down where the penalty is what actually kept the opponent’s drive going.

For example, if the opponent had an in-completion or they were stopped short of a first down, but an Eagles penalty gave them a first, I counted that.  If the opponent would have gotten the first down anyway (without the penalty), I did not include that one.

I also looked for penalties at crucial junctures of games that seemingly had a significant impact to the outcome.  Lastly, I noted whether or not the opponent went on to score on a particular drive where a penalty kept it alive.

On the offensive side, I only looked for penalties on third-down that killed the drive, or penalties on any down that may have impacted a scoring opportunity.

First, here is an overview of penalties in general for the Eagles in 2011, courtesy of the Football Database:

  • Had the 11th most penalties in the NFL with 107.  The only two teams with more than that who made the playoffs were Detroit and San Francisco.
  • Out of the 107 penalties, 52 were on the defensive side
  • They were in the top two for the most off-sides and roughing-the-passer penalties (signs of an aggressive or undisciplined defense?)
  • They ranked 17th in the NFL in penalty yardage differential with a -40 (they were penalized 40 more yards than their opponents)

Now let’s move on to a break-down of some specific defensive penalties that had a direct impact on the outcome of the game:

In Week 3, the Eagles led 16-14 when the Giants scored a touchdown to take the lead.  New York opted to go for a two-point conversion and failed on their initial attempt.  However, a defensive pass interference call against Jarrad Page gave them a second chance and they converted.

So, instead of a 20-16 Giants lead, it was 22-16.  The Eagles lost that game 29-16, but had they held on that two-point play, it may have changed some momentum.

In Week 4, with the Eagles clinging to a 23-17 lead late in the game, the 49ers had a 2nd and three at the Eagles’ 42 yard line and trying to drive for the game-winning score.  The defense dropped Kendall Hunter for a two-yard loss and should have set up a third and five situation at the 44 yard line.

However, thanks to a Jamar Chaney face-mask penalty, the 49ers ended up with a first and 10 at the Eagles’ 29.  They ended up scoring a touchdown to take the lead and won the game.

In Week 5 against Buffalo, the Bills were already up 28-14 and appeared to be driving for more.  However, the Eagles stopped them on third-down and should have forced a punt.

On the third-down play, Nnamdi Asomugha was penalized for a face-mask that gave the Bills a first down and they went on to score a field goal.  Instead of a much-needed stop and possible momentum shifter, they go down by even more.

This was also the week of the infamous Juqua Parker off-sides penalty.  With under two minutes to play and the ball at mid-field, Buffalo lined up for a fourth-down play.

Juqua Parker offsides

Okay, nobody jump….dammit Parker! Photo:

Everyone in the world knew that they were just lining up to try and draw the defense off with a hard snap count, but Parker still bit.  Instead of getting the ball back with a last chance to try and tie the game, Buffalo was able to run out the clock.

In Week 9 with the game tied at 10-10, Chicago had a third and goal situation.  Cutler ended up throwing incomplete, which should have set up a field goal attempt.  Instead, Jason Babin is flagged for roughing-the-passer and voila, first and goal.

The Bears scored a touchdown on the very next play to go up 17-10.  Talk about frustrating!

Later in that same game, the Bears were in long field goal range when they failed to convert a third down play.  However, Asomugha was called for pass-interference, which gave Chicago a first down and moved them into much more comfortable field goal range (which they converted).

Those two penalties led to a seven point differential in a crucial game that the Eagles lost by six.

In Week 10, the Eagles had three third-down penalties and two of them led to touchdowns.  The more crucial one came in the fourth quarter while the Eagles were up 14-7 over Arizona.

They stopped the Cardinals on a third and 10 play and should have forced a punt.  But, Asomugha was called for off-sides and gave the Cards another shot with third and five.

They converted and went on to score the game-tying touchdown.

In Week 12 against New England, the Eagles actually jumped out to a 10-0 lead.  They had stuffed the Patriots on their first drive while scoring on our own first two drives.

The Eagles appeared to have stopped the Pats again on a third and two play where they stuffed Green-Ellis for no gain.  However, the Eagles were called for 12-men on the field and automatically gave New England a first down.

The Pats went on to score a touchdown on that drive and it very well may have been a significant momentum changer.

Now for the offensive side of the ball:

Ed Hoculi


In Week 4, there were two penalties that appeared to impact Eagles scoring chances.  The first one, on a 2nd and seven at the 49ers’ 22 yard-line, Eagles lineman Kyle DeVan was called for holding and pushed them back 10 yards.

They never recovered and missed a field goal attempt that would have been closer if not for the penalty.

The next one happened on a second and seven from the San Francisco 10 yard-line.  Another holding call pushed them back 10 yards and ended up in a missed field goal.  Granted, this one should have still been made, but losing 10 yards didn’t help.

Furthermore, these two instances came with the Eagles leading 23-17 in a game they ultimately lost by one point.

In Week 5, with Buffalo up 31-21 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles faced a third and goal from the Bills’ six yard-line.  Michael Vick ran it in for a touchdown but it was nullified by an illegal use of the hands penalty on Danny Watkins.

So instead of it being a 31-28 game, it was 31-24 and they could never come back.

In Week 10 against Arizona, the Eagles had the ball with under two minutes left in the game and down by four points.  This was set up to be the game winning drive but faced a 3rd and 10 from their own 42 yard-line.

So, this is crunch time and what happens?  First down?  Nope.  LeSean McCoy was called for offensive holding and pushed the Eagles back 10 yards to make it third and 20.

The next play the Eagles are forced to go long and Michael Vick’s pass was intercepted and ended the game.  Third and 20’s are worlds harder than third and 10’s.

In Week 11, the Eagles had a third-down penalty that wiped out a nice play for a first down at the Giants’ 40 yard line.  Instead of first and 10 there, they ended up with a third and 12 and ultimately punted.

In Week 16, the Eagles faced a third and 27 from the Jets’ 43 yard line and completed a 22 yard pass.  This would  have made it fourth down, but well within field goal range.

However, a 10 yard holding penalty wiped that out and they ended up punting the ball away.

Penalty flag


After going through every game, I came away with about what I expected.  There were eight times when the defense was penalized that ended up costing us as well as four times for the offense.

That’s a total of 12 occasions where penalties hurt the Eagles on the scoreboard.

Furthermore, out of the Eagles’ 52 penalties on the defensive side of the ball, 12 came on third down.  That equates to 23%, or almost one-fourth of the unit’s total penalties.

The offense didn’t fare as bad as initially thought, as they only logged four total penalties on third-down plays.

I can’t say where the Eagles’ defense ranks compared to the rest of the NFL as far as third-down penalties, but I would think that almost one-fourth of their total penalties is substantial.

All of this just goes to show you how important it is to play disciplined football, and how untimely penalties can have a significant impact on the outcome of games.

Just think, if a few of the above penalties didn’t happen, it may have meant the difference between the Eagles finishing 8-8 or 10-6 and winning the division.

However, we can’t dwell on the past and the “what ifs.”  This team just needs to get focused and play cleaner football in 2012.

Just as if they can tackle better and reduce turnovers, reducing the penalties will go a long way in winning some game this year.




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