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Data: Penalties on defense and offense are far from equal

You may not realize it yet, but not all penalties are created equal.

Take a second to think about it, and it may become obvious. Reflect on the amount of defensive penalties that result in first downs and extended drives for offenses, while offensive penalties rarely result in losses of down or ended drives. See it now?

Turns out, penalties incurred on defense are significantly more costly than penalties while on offense.

But just how much more costly are they?

David Hale, who writes for ESPN, shared some numbers regarding penalties and points per drive recently that coaches will find fascinating.

That's where the data gets really interesting. Hale points out defensive flags are about ten times worse when you look at scoring.

">February 16, 2021

The teams that were hurt the most by defensive penalties may come as a surprise. Marshall, the number one scoring defense in the country last year, was the team hurt most by defensive penalties in 2020, allowing nearly 60% of their points during drives with a defensive flag. They allowed an impressive 13 points per game last year, and if the hadn't finished first among teams hurt most by flags leading to points they had a shot to field one of the most dominant defense since the 2012 Alabama defense that allowed 10.9 points per game (but probably not quite the 2011 Tide defense that allowed 8.2 points per game). Other top 30 defenses on that list include Buffalo (#30 nationally in points per game), UAB (25th nationally), Alabama (13th nationally), and Appalachian State (16th nationally).

There's a lot more data Hale shared for you to take a look at and draw your own conclusions below.

After seeing what has been pointed out, there is now concrete data we can look at and realize just how damaging defensive penalties can be, the question for coaches becomes; What is the strategy to combat it? How does it change how we coach? Does it? Should it?

You can bet one coach on that list will be trying to crack that code as he pursues his 8th national title. How about the rest?

What about you?