Green Bay Packers: Studying the Stats #4 – Penalties All Green Bay Packers All the Time

In this fourth installment of “Studying the Stats”, I’ll be taking a look at the Green Bay Packers’ penalty woes and how they may have affected results.

First, the cold hard stats:
Packers Penalties:

2009    118 (1)        1057yds.(2)
2008    110 (2)         984yds. (1)
2007    113 (4)        1006yds. (2)

Penalty Rankings for Super Bowl teams:

2009 NO (20)      Indpls (31)
2008 Pitt (12)      Arizona (5)
2007 NE (25)     NYG (26)
2006 Chi (5)    Indpls (26)
2005 Pitt (25)    Seat (30)

The numbers in parehtheses are team rankings in penalties with respect to the rest of the NFL teams. As you can see, the Packers have been top shelf producers in the dubious category of most-penalized NFL teams. Looking at the last five Super Bowl contestants, you can see that 80% of the time, the teams were not heavily penalized teams.

More important than just committing penalties is when you commit them. Looking at the Packers’ stats in this department, there are some real eye-openers in there.

Special teams penalties were a big problem for the Packers in 2009. 30 special team penalties were committed overall, with 14 being holding penalties, a very high percentage. 17 of 30 penalties were on Packers returns, resulting in a field position loss of 215 yards and Jordy Nelson’s 99 yard kickoff return for a TD.

The Packers’ offense was penalized 18 times after an offensive gain, wiping out 186 yards gained in the process. Thirteen of those penalties nullified first downs and still another nullified a touchdown. 78% of these penalties cost the Packers a first down or TD! Wow!

On the defensive side, the Packers were called for 9 defensive interference penalties, resulting in 150 yards to the opposition. But more amazing is the fact that ALL 9 interference penalties came on 3rd or 4th down and gave the other team a first down, keeping their drive alive. Watching the games as a fan last year, I often found myself lamenting that it seemed like every interference penalty resulted in keeping a drive alive. I had no idea it was actually 100% absolutely true!  Incredible!

Looking back at recent seasons in Packers history, they have had some success committing a lot of penalties. These facts were presented to us very nicely last October in an article by Greg Bedard of  In that article, Greg pointed out that, “The Packers’ last two NFC North division titles came in 2004 and 2007. Those teams stand fourth and fifth, respectively, for most penalties in a season (116 and 113) in team history.”

Greg’s overall point in that article was that you can live with penalties, as long as you cut down on the sacks and turnovers. While that may be true to some extent, I think it’s also useful to look at where the Packers stood versus the rest of the league those years and how far they got in the playoffs. In 2007, the Packers were the 4th most penalized team, while in 2004, they were 14th. Add in last year when they wore the crown as most penalized team, and those 3 seasons have produced 4 playoff games altogether, but only one playoff win.  So, the Packers have proven that they can reach the playoffs while being heavily penalized, but have they proven that they can advance far into the postseason with such undisciplined play? No they have not.

While it’s certainly possible to lead the league in penalties and reach the Super Bowl, the odds are pretty poor. The odds get even worse if a team commits penalties at the most inopprtune times, like the Packers did last season. Personally, I like to go with the percentages, so I’m always looking for a way to give my team the best chance to win. That’s why for the third straight year, I’m calling on Head Coach Mike McCarthy to get that pesky penalty problem “cleaned up.”


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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for


14 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers: Studying the Stats #4 – Penalties

  1. That Bedard article is one of the best I’ve read. And his main point can’t be refuted. It’s a mistake, as is missed tackles, dropped passes…

    But the numbers you present, of the SB champs, speak for themselves. We cannot win it all if we keep making penalties in crucial moments.

    1. It’s hard to disagree with Greg’s overall point. Penalties are easily overcome if you do a bunch of other things right. But it does make your job more difficult.
      And the striking point was also that all penalties are not created equal. An interference penalty on first down in the first quarter is not the same as an interference penalty deep in your own zone with 2 minutes left in the game and the other team driving towards a game-winning touchdown.

      1. I agree, but the same can be said for every aspect of the game, from ints, to dropped passes, to blocks…

  2. This is a great piece and an analysis worthy of Al Bracco. I do have one point of contention, though: I always hate it when someone says “that penalty just cost them a big play”…the penalty is usually the only reason they GET the big play! Almost all penalties, especially holds, put the team at an unfair advantage on the play, which is why they are illegal moves. IF a hold prevents a sack so Rodgers can complete a bomb, how did it cost them anything? And I’d rather take a hold than a sack–you might lose a couple extra yards, but a guy doesn’t get clobbered and you don’t lose a down.

    Of course, having a line that can block without holding is better. And you are spot-on about being able to overcome penalties if you don’t create turnovers (we don’t) or sacks (we do), as well as that it usually keeps you from beating playoff teams.

    1. MJ, you “hate” a lot of things… LOL.

      And your point is very true in some cases, but doesn’t apply to pre-snap offensive penalties or defensive penalties.

  3. You lose the score, you lose the yards, you lose the 1st downs, you give the 1st downs, you give the yards. None of these are good things. It does indicate a lack of of doscipline. MM apparently values what he considers aggressive play more than discipline. It’s a damn good thing we’ve got Aaron Rodgers and Woodson.

  4. I know I’m going to sound like the big excuser here but here goes,1)30 ST penaltys with 14 for holding and I assume the other 16 are for blocking in the back.This problem is rectified by having returners that can run in a way other than into the wall.(will clarify if want)
    .2)18 offensive after a gain is the result off a non-steady OL and frustration.
    3) 9 PI’s and all were during 3rd or 4th downs extending the drive. More important is against whom were we playing.I contest that refs are more apt to hit you with Pi’s when a more MEDIA loved QB is in the game.It ‘s wrong yes but thats a fact.Look up that stat and see what it says.
    How many Pi’s wre called in our favor? How many returns were called back for Holding or Blocking in Back in our favor?How many calls were there against the offense after a 1st and called back in our favor?
    This is a reason I read and base little on STATS,”IT’s ALWAYS A ONE SIDED DESCRIPTION OF a THOUGHT”

    1. Well, I don’t have time to answer everything, but here’s what was readily available:

      There was only one interference called vs. Minny:
      Pass interference (9) — C.Woodson at Min (Oct.
      5), vs. Bal (Dec. 7), at Pit (Dec. 20); N.Barnett vs.
      Dal (Nov. 15); T.Williams vs. Dal (Nov. 15), three
      times vs. Bal (Dec. 7); B.Chillar at Pit (Dec. 20)

      Special teams penalties were actually pretty well distributed after the holding. not as many illegal blocks as you might expect.

      SPECIAL TEAMS (30)
      12 players on field (1) — Team at Cle (Oct. 25)
      Delay of Game (1) — J.Kapinos at Det (Nov. 26)
      Facemask (2) — D.Bishop vs. Det (Oct. 18);
      B.Underwood vs. Sea (Dec. 27)
      False start (3) — J.Bush twice vs. Cin (Sept. 20);
      at Chi (Dec. 13)
      Holding (14) — C.Matthews vs. Chi (Sept. 13);
      D.Bishop vs. Cin (Sept. 20); J.Kuhn vs. Cin
      (Sept. 20); J.Bush at StL (Sept. 27); B.Jones
      at StL (Sept. 27); E.Dietrich-Smith at Min (Oct.
      5), vs. Det (Oct. 18); S.Havner at Min (Oct. 5);
      M.Montgomery vs. Det (Oct. 18); B.Poppinga
      vs. Min (Nov. 1); B.Underwood at TB (Nov.
      8); D.Martin vs. SF (Nov. 22), at Pit (Dec. 20);
      C.Obiozor vs. Bal (Dec. 7)
      Horse Collar (1) — B.Jackson vs. Sea (Dec. 27)
      Illegal block above the waist (4) — D.Martin
      vs. Dal (Nov. 15); J.Wynn vs. SF (Nov. 22);
      Q.Johnson at Det (Nov. 26); A.Bigby at Det
      (Nov. 26)
      Ineligible Downfield (1) — S.Havner vs. Cin
      (Sept. 20)
      Neutral Zone Infraction (1) — M.Montgomery
      vs. Min (Nov. 1)
      Personal foul (1) — B.Poppinga vs. Det (Oct. 18)
      Unnecessary Roughness (1) — B.Poppinga at
      Det (Nov. 26)

  5. OK,we get 2 from ROMO,2 from BIG BEN,4 in a big game for Balt(play-off push/Flacco more media at the time)and 1 for the diva and the bull with that one.All PI’s(except the Woodson IN Minn) in three games and in post-season push and we were considered out of it.Go figure.
    Maybe I read to much into it but?
    2/3’s of the 30 ST penalty’s were in the 1st half of season.

    1. I think your point of the interference penalties coming in “big” games against top QBs was mostly true. Flacco would be the only questionable one.

  6. Balt was in div race.Flacco going to play-off 1st 2yrs,he was more in the spotlight than some would think.Their rec corps was not a super threat,so 4 PI’s in a game that meant alot for them in DEC.I feel thats the game thats least questionable.

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