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Piano Man Plays The Same Damned Song: Bengals Lead the NFL With Most Penalties Per Game

As loyal and optimistic Bengals fans, it seems that we're growing accustomed to seeing a lot of penalties recently. Not accepting; just accustomed with it, followed by a big sigh after seeing a yellow bar next to the score on the television. In 2009, the Bengals committed 114 penalties, which ranked sixth in the NFL with the always disciplined Baltimore Ravens committing 115 fouls, including a league high 1,094 yards lost. The Packers lead the NFL with 118 flags while Jacksonville committed a league low 70 penalties. However, during the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals were always disciplined enough to be in the middle of the road, compared to the NFL.

Penalties during Marvin Lewis era. Rankings in parenthesis with first being the most in the NFL.
Season Penalties Yards Lost
2009 114 (6th) 863 (7th)
2008 75 (28th) 591 (28th)
2007 90 (t-17th) 670 (19th)
2006 92 (19th) 717 (23rd)
2005 110 (18th) 920 (16th)
2004 103 (25th) 810 (29th)
2003 107 (14th) 846 (19th)

What's actually disturbing is that of 114 penalties the Bengals committed, an astonishing 78 were against the offense -- which according to Football Outsiders is 10 more than any other team in the NFL. That's a 68.4% of all penalties that the Bengals committed in 2009 were called on the offense. Furthermore, Andrew Whitworth, Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Bobbie Williams and J.P. Foschi accounted for 51 of the team's 78 offensive penalties -- that's 65.3%.

Top-Five Most Called Penalties Against Cincinnati in 2009
Penalty Count
Offensive Holding 24
False Start 24
Delay of Game 15
Illegal Formation 7
Defensive Offside 6
Illegal Contact 6

But who cares about 2009? What happened last year, happened last year and has no bearing on what happens with the team this year. There's no better example of that than the transition from 2008 to 2009, when the Bengals improved their win total by six games.

At least it sounds nice in theory.

Through four preseason games, which includes a game more than every team save for the Dallas Cowboys, the Bengals rank first in the NFL with 41 penalties. Rather than ranking them on total penalties across the league, let's rank the Bengals based on average penalties per game.

Team Games Penalties Pen/Game Pen Yards Yrds/Game
Bengals 4 41 10.25 391 97.75
49ers 3 27 9.0 247 82.3
Panthers 3 26 8.7 198 66.0
Lions 3 25 8.3 229 79.3
Saints 3 24 8.0 216 72.0

Of the 41 penalties, the Bengals have been called for 15 holds and nine false starts. Those 24 penalties are responsible for stalling 13 drives. Not quite 100%. Though both of J.T. O'Sullivan's intentional grounding penalties have also stalled drives; now that's 100% efficient.

If the preseason is a forecast of things to come -- which typically isn't on a team scale but the amount of penalties has me thinking otherwise -- the Bengals will be well on their way to being one of the league's most penalized teams in 2010. According to Geoff Hobson, "Lewis was adamant" that penalties won't be a regular thing this year.

“More concerning is who does it than what it is,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what happened on Fanene’s personal foul. That’s a guy we know is going to be playing for us. The other thing is we overwhelm a guy and we get a holding call so we have to look at that and why. We know these things get cleaned up during the season and they’re not called because the officials are getting graded on this as well. And I know that’s the kind of thing people are kind of looking at now. They’re kind of overdoing that, but we have to learn from it and go forward."

While Lewis' point is understood, and that the referees are having their own preseason, as well as several players committing fouls that aren't likely to make the team, the fact is the Bengals were one of the most penalized teams in 2009, the most penalized team on offense and are the most penalized team in the preseason.