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Penalty Flag Blame on Players or Coaches?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

To whom do you assign the preponderance of the blame for penalty flags? The players? The coaches? Team culture?

I am going to say team culture.

The Arizona Cardinals’ team culture had been the bane of its existence for what feels like eons.

In my opinion —- the veteran leaders on a team are the dynamos who shape the team’s culture.

Case in point —-

Do you know which NFL team was the most penalized in 2019?

The Tampa Bay Bucs at a whopping 8.3 penalties a game.

In comes Tom Brady and guess what happens?

The Bucs go from 32nd in the NFL in penalties in 2019, to 4th in 2020 at 5.0.

That’s an improvement of 3.3 penalties per game.

The most effective veteran leaders not only set the tone in practice and every day in the clubhouse for winning ballgames, they hold the other players around them fully accountable.

As we well know, the Cardinals took the Bucs’ place at 32nd in the NFL in penalties in 2020, incurring 7.1 penalties a game...which actually was a slight improvement from 2019, where the Cardinals incurred 7.6 penalties per game (28th).

Penalties across the league were down in 2020, mostly because crowd noise was not a factor.

This year for the Cardinals there has been a notable change in veteran leadership —-

In comes J.J. Watt and Rodney Hudson.

The bar for team discipline and player accountability has been raised.

The Cardinals’ young returning leaders are coming off good seasons where they showed plenty of promise and a will to win.

Young Captains (2020 PFF Grades):

  • QB Kyler Murray: 82.8 Pro Bowl
  • LT D.J. Humphries: 88.3
  • FS Budda Baker: 75.4 Pro Bowl
  • LB/ST: Dennis Gardeck: 89.6

The Veteran Captains in 2020 (PFF Grades):

  • DE Chandler Jones: 62.6
  • DT Corey Peters: 61.4
  • WR Larry Fitzgerald: 59.6
  • CB Patrick Peterson: 55.6
  • LB Jordan Hicks: 50.4

The New Captains in 2020 (PFF Grades):

  • DE J.J. Watt: 85.4
  • C Rodney Hudson: 73.6


The Cardinals are making a concerted effort to improve the team culture —- if those efforts come to fruition, the Cardinals could go from worst in the NFL in penalties in 2020 to one of the best, just as the Bucs did.

Best, gutsiest statement of all about the Cardinals’ uneven performance last season —- a statement that has shaped the Cardinals’ entire off-season:

“Some guys weren’t doing their jobs.” Budda Baker