The Denver Broncos hit their bye right near the midpoint of the season, so now is a great time to check in on how they and their opponents are doing with rules compliance. Many stats below come from or were cross-referenced from nflpenalties.com
The Big Picture Is Flag-Happy
The Broncos have been penalized 54 times this year, the third most in the league. However, these penalties have been for only 386 total yards, the 12th fewest penalty yards. Denver has had only a little more than 7 yards a penalty, including 21 pre-snap penalties. While Denver has had a lot of flags, they have not been big penalties. While all fouls are bad, Denver is avoiding big penalties and that is a great position to be in.
Denver’s opponents have led the league in penalties with 62 and been penalized for 563 yards. The yard difference is the best in the league. It has been easy to miss, but Russell Wilson has been roughed a lot this year, and that is the biggest contributor to this yardage differential. Hopefully the offensive line can help him avoid these hits over the rest of the season, but the penalty yardage is a nice consolation prize.
Denver is on pace to substantially decrease its penalties from a year ago. The Broncos have fewer false starts, offensive holds, personal fouls, and unsportsmanlike conducts. As should surprise absolutely no one in Broncos Country, Denver has dramatically cut down its delay of game penalties.
While the Broncos have already surpassed last year’s totals for Defensive Holding and Neutral Zone Infractions, this is not the problem it might seem. In both cases, this is mostly because similar penalties are being called differently (Denver is getting called for Defensive holding this year but Illegal Contact last year, Neutral Zone Infraction this year but Offsides last year). They have been called for a few random low frequency penalties this year just like last year. In short, Denver is playing more disciplined and there is very little to be worried about so far on the penalty front.
One big negative this year compared to last year for the Broncos is disqualifications. Kareem Jackson has been ejected from two different games this year. Last year the Broncos did not have a recorded ejection through half of the season. I know some have disagreed with this, but I firmly believed both of Jackson’s ejections were merited. His play is more dangerous than is currently allowed in the NFL, and I do not want his career to end on a low note so I hope he can make adjustments to his tackling so that he can return from suspension and finish his career with honor.
The biggest difference I have felt watching Denver this year is in challenges. I am a huge critic of the challenge system. Mostly I think that replay too often gets things wrong because slow-motion judgement is different than game speed judgement, and the result takes fun out of football without getting more accurate results. However, this year Denver has made smart challenges in high leverage situations. Last year, Denver missed obvious challenges and made some extremely questionable ones.
Last year, I ran a section in my column each week discussing challenges because Denver was so erratic in challengeable situations that there was a lot of content to discuss. Denver failed to challenge a questionable spot that set up 3rd and inches in one game in the first half. I thought the spot was bad, but generally think that challenges in the first half when the potential is a first down are decent. Every other challenge decision Sean Payton has made has been rock solid.
As is often the case, I have not been pleased with New Yorks reviews on challenges and think they get decisions wrong with the use of replay far more often than the officials on the field get things wrong going full speed. That is out of the Broncos control however, and what the Broncos can control they are doing a good job of managing. Hopefully this translates well into the second half of the year.