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After Further Review: Denver Broncos Defensive Penalties in 2023

Breaking down the impact of Vance Josephs return season and his defensive system on the Denver Broncos penalties.

Green Bay Packers v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Before we begin, I believe that its important to note a huge difference between offensive and defensive penalties. Many offensive penalties function as effectively turnovers. Defensive penalties are almost always a reliable first down for the offense – a bad outcome but nowhere near as consequential. So its not as big of a deal to have defensive penalties as it is to have offensive ones.

The Denver Broncos had 38 accepted defensive penalties, along with 5 declined ones. Minnesota had the fewest defensive penalties with 21, while Cleveland led the league with 57. The average was 38 accepted penalties, just where Denver was. As for yardage penalties, Denver had 317 yards lost to defensive penalties, about 40 yards below the league average.

Penalized Players

Pat Surtain led Denver with six penalties. He had three each of defensive holding and defensive pass interference. Two of his pass interference calls were on relatively deep passes (16 and 19 yards). This was substantially more than he was penalized in his first two years in the league (though he did not play a full season his first year). He probably can, and should, improve on this over the off-season.

Fabian Moreau had the second most penalties with five, though he played significantly fewer snaps than Surtain, not starting until Week 6. Moreau has been a starter in 4 seasons before 2023, and in each of those he had notably more snaps than he did for Denver this year. In those years he has had 8,4, 10 and 4 penalties. All things considered this was a relatively normal to good year for Moreau. He was called for 4 defensive holding penalties, along with a 16 yard pass interference. While his calls for pass interference and other penalties have varied, in every season he has been called for at least 3 and no more than 5 holds. There should be no surprises here – he was penalized exactly like the stats would lead us to suspect from his past play.

Three Broncos tied for the third most defensive penalties with four: Kareem Jackson, Damarri Mathis, and Baron Browning. This was despite none of them playing the whole year. Kareem Jackson accomplished this in only 8 games for Denver. Jackson had been rarely penalized in his previous three years in Denver, so the big uptick was quite surprising. Damarri Mathis managed his penalties in only six games playing defensive snaps. If he had remained a starter for the entire season, he was on pace to come in second in the NFL in defensive penalties. Browning only played in 10 games. In 2022 Browning was penalized for neutral zone infraction, offsides, or encroachment (three different penalties for the same conduct) seven times, so while it was good to see a decrease to only three calls in 2023, he also played in four fewer games. He definitely needs to continue to work on this.

Finally, the only other Bronco penalized more than 2 times was Mike Purcell. All of his were for offsides. Three is not the end of the world, especially for a player who played nearly the whole season.

One note, for individual penalties, I counted declined penalties against the individual, so its out of a slightly larger number of total penalties than the 38 accepted ones.

Year to Year Comparison

Last year Denver led the league with 50 accepted defensive penalties, in a year in which the NFL called defensive penalties at a bit lower of a rate than this season. Its good to see Denver drop from most penalized to league average.

Denver was called for 8 defensive pass interference calls, 14 offsides, 9 unnecessary roughness, 11 defensive holding, and 2 roughing the passer. Surprisingly very little changed in any category year over year, and Denver saw its decrease by broadly being a little bit better than last year.

League-wide, most defensive penalties stayed nearly the same year over year, though there was a notable uptick in defensive pass interference calls.

Conclusion

This year Denver avoided disaster with the officials due to its mid-season changes in personnel. This kept Denver away from the top of the most penalized lists.

Next year there are several defensive players I really am interested in watching. The first is Baron Browning. I want to pay closer attention and see if he is always trying to time the snap and got caught out, or if he is really bad at it when he did try. Assuming that he resigns with Denver, I am also really interested in watching PJ Locke. Safeties do not tend to draw as many flags as linemen and corners, but this year Denver put him in a lot of interesting situations, and I enjoy watching his tackling. Finally, I am interested in continuing to watch Jonathon Cooper. This is not really for his penalties, but his reactions when he was held this year were quite emphatic and a bit of levity.