After their first week, the Arizona Cardinals now find out that they've been hit with the penalty bug. It's a contagious little thing that goes around from player to player, causing them to act out during games, in ways that they're normally not accustomed to. The only way to cure the bug is hard discipline, and the fear of losing your job. In all seriousness, after one week, the Cardinals are already the worst team in the league with 12 penalties. Ken Whisenhunt wants a disciplined team, and will strive to make them that way. When talking to a local radio station on Monday, Whisenhunt blatantly said players need to focus, or he'll find somebody else to do their job. If that's not a wake up call, then I don't know what is. Penalties can be the downfall for any team, and the Cardinals were lucky enough last year to not let it ruin their season. Let's take a look at some statistics of the Cardinals recent struggles:
- Last year the Cardinals were 28th in the league with 108 penaties(6.75/game) for 781 yards(48.8/Game), which was 21st in the league.
- Do penalties really have an affect on the outcome of a game? Last year, in the Cardinals wins, they averaged 7.1 penalties a game, for 55.2 yards. In their losses, they averaged 5.1 a game, for 40.5 yards.
- Through week 11 of last year, the Cardinals averaged 8 penalties a game, for 50 yards. From week 12 - 17, they averaged 4.5 a game for 40.1 yards. Clearly, Ken Whisenhunt was able to make something happen at that point in the season.
- Have penalties always been a problem for the Cardinals? Think again. Starting in 2001 the Cardinals have slowly become one of the worst penalized teams, going from 5th('01), 2nd('02), 10th('03), 28th('04), 31st('05), 31st('06), 32nd(07), and 28th last year.
Looking at the third point, I can't help but wonder if Whisenhunt will use whatever tactics he used last year to improve the penalty problems that have already begun. One player that I'd like to point out is Deuce Lutui. He was often at the end of some harsh criticism(including from myself) for often committing penalties last year. He was facing heat from back up Elton Brown, and it seemed that we would eventually see the end of Lutui. If and whatever Whisenhunt did, must of worked, because after that week 11 win, Lutui was composed for the remainder of the season. Perhaps job security is the only way for Whisenhunt to get the message through to players. With that being said, let's take a look a some key drives from yesterday that were affected by penalties.
1st and 10 at ARZ 29 - (10:25) T.Hightower up the middle to ARZ 30 for 1 yard (M.Lawson).
2nd and 9 at ARZ 30 - (9:43) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass short left to L.Fitzgerald to SF 49 for 21 yards (D.Goldson).
> PENALTY on ARZ-L.Fitzgerald, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at ARZ 30 - No Play.
2nd and 19 at ARZ 20 - (9:13) PENALTY on ARZ-M.Gandy, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at ARZ 20 - No Play.
2nd and 24 at ARZ 15 - (8:54) T.Hightower up the middle to ARZ 21 for 6 yards (R.McDonald).
3rd and 18 at ARZ 21 - (8:14) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass deep right intended for J.Urban INTERCEPTED by P.Willis at ARZ 40. P.Willis to ARZ 36 for 4 yards (T.Hightower).
The drive looks to be promising, as we see a vintage Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald play. Unfortunately, a pass interference call on Fitz, results in 2nd and long. On the very next play, Mike Gandy is blown for a false start, putting them in worse field position. After a short Hightower run, Warner is picked off by Patrick Willis. It's Warner's fault for throwing the pick, but he wouldn't have needed to make that throw had it not been for the penalties.
1st and 10 at SF 44 - (3:44) S.Hill pass short left to D.Walker to ARZ 39 for 17 yards (B.McFadden).
1st and 10 at ARZ 39 - (2:55) S.Hill pass incomplete deep left to V.Davis (A.Wilson).
> PENALTY on ARZ-A.Wilson, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at ARZ 39 - No Play.
1st and 10 at ARZ 24 - (2:49) F.Gore up the middle to ARZ 24 for no gain (C.Campbell, C.Haggans).
2nd and 10 at ARZ 24 - (2:02) S.Hill pass incomplete short left to J.Morgan [C.Campbell].
3rd and 10 at ARZ 24 - (1:57) (Shotgun) S.Hill sacked at ARZ 32 for -8 yards (C.Okeafor).
4th and 18 at ARZ 32 - (1:28) J.Nedney 50 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-B.Jennings, Holder-A.Lee.
This time the penalty on defense was the difference. As you can see, the 49ers were driving, before Adrian Wilson decided to lead with his helmet and proceed to lay out Vernon Davis. Now, I did get some satisfaction out of the hit and the fact that it was Davis at the receiving end, but Wilson should know by now not to lead with his helmet. The 15 yard penalty gives the Niners better position and are able to hit a 50 yard field goal, which would've been out of range without the penalty.
1st and 10 at SF 38 - (3:11) PENALTY on ARZ-S.Spach, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at SF 38 - No Play.
1st and 15 at SF 43 - (3:11) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass incomplete short left to J.Urban.
> PENALTY on ARZ-M.Gandy, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at SF 43 - No Play.
1st and 25 at ARZ 47 - (3:06) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass short right to T.Hightower to SF 46 for 7 yards (S.Spencer).
2nd and 18 at SF 46 - (2:34) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass short middle to J.Urban to SF 33 for 13 yards (S.Spencer).
3rd and 5 at SF 33 - (2:01) K.Warner pass incomplete deep right to J.Urban.
4th and 5 at SF 33 - (1:55) (Shotgun) K.Warner pass incomplete short left to T.Hightower [J.Smith].
The last example, and clearly the killer of the game, was in the fourth quarter. After a hard fought punt return by Antrel Rolle, everything was starting to fall into place for the Cardinals. A game winning touchdown was close, until the penalties happened. After a false start by Stephen Spach, and a hold on Gandy, the Cardinals finally began their drive with 1st and 25. After two passes to Hightower and one to Jerheme Urban, the Cardinals turn the ball over on downs. It's clear that without the penalties, the game may have been won.
It's obvious that penalties effected these drives, so how can Whisenhunt change something as simple as a penalty. We already know that job security is a key factor, but positional drills and practice are what's going to have the main affect. Staying consistent to fix these problems is a must, and the teams need to individually work out the kinks. The Cardinals need to emphasize the importance of not committing penalties, then put them to the test. Whether it be running certain drills over and over again, or extensively watching game footage.
It's important for the Cardinals to establish an identity of a smart, disciplined football team, and committing 12 penalties a game is not a great start. Penalties are drive-killers, and the way the offense is playing, they need all the help they can get. I don't imagine that Whisenhunt will make any drastic depth chart moves, but you can't underestimate how far he's willing to go.