Yeah, the penalties are completely skewed.https://twitter.com/fo_aschatz/status/1 ... 80837?s=21https://twitter.com/crimealytics/status ... 62304?s=21
For some reason teams play the Saints and magically don’t have penalties called on them while.
Analyzing the Saints and Their Opponents' Drastic Penalty Differential
There’s a tweet makings its way around Saints twitter from Jeff Asher, showing the a rolling 16 game average of penalties against the Saints vs Saints opponents with a drastic difference over this season [https://twitter.com/Crimealytics/status/1200485863794319360](https://twitter.com/Crimealytics/status ... 3794319360
). Inspired by that, I went through each game’s stats and compared them to season averages using [https://www.nflpenalties.com/](https://www.nflpenalties.com/
The first thing I looked at was penalties against. While it certainly feels like the Saints are constantly called for penalties when watching, the Saints are the 8th most penalized team for the 6th most yards. That’s a lot, but that’s not necessarily unusual. The Saints ask a lot of their corners, and they play a physical (grabby) style. They also use some creative run schemes that might open the door to more holding penalties as well. Basically, there’s nothing too far out of the ordinary here. Even when watching, almost all penalties called against the Saints this year have been defensible. Of course, there are missed calls, but that’s the case for every team. For the most part, when a penalty is thrown against the Saints, there’s some reason for it.
The other side of the line is curious, as Jeff Asher points out in his follow-up tweet. The Saints opponents aren’t just not receiving penalties, they’re avoiding penalties at a historically low rate. Even adjusting for pace (per 100 plays on nflpenalties.com), the Saints are the beneficiaries of the fewest penalties since 2017 and the fewest yards since 2014. Read more plainly, no team since 2014 has received as few yards as the Saints have from opposing penalties.
My first thought was “well what are the Saints opponents doing when playing other teams? Maybe they’re just not committing many penalties.” But that doesn’t seem to be the case. In games against any other team, Saints opponents are committing an average of 7.8 penalties per game (which would rank 9th most in the NFL) for 64.5 yards per game (which would rank 11th most). Against New Orleans, those same teams are averaging 5.3 penalties per game for 40.6 yards per game, each of which ranks as the fewest in the NFL.
I then was able to dispel two other possible explanations: 1) Perhaps refs simply “let them play” more in Saints games. However, the fact that the Saints rank so highly in both penalties and yards per game seems to discount that. If that were the case, we should also expect to see the Saints near the bottom in penalties. 2) Could this be explained by home/road splits? In general, penalties favor the home team as refs are usually at least slightly influenced in the long run by home crowds. While the Saints have benefited slightly more at home, both the penalties (5.5) and yards (45.2) would still rank dead last in the NFL overall. Additionally, the Saints have played six home and six road games, so the difference should have evened out.
Lastly, I went through some game-by-game statistics. The first was simple: how many games did the Saints opponents receive more penalties and/or more yards than the Saints? The answer to both of those questions is two. The Saints have been the more penalized team in 10 of their 12 games this year regarding both penalties and yards. Again though, maybe the Saints truly are one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL. So, the other statistic I went through was comparing the opposing penalties and yards vs the Saints to their average penalties and yards against teams not named the Saints. Similarly, there were just 3 instances where opponents were penalized more than average compared to 9 instances where they received fewer penalties than average. When looking at yards, that figure drops to just 2 times where the Saints were the beneficiary compared to their opponent’s average and 10 times where their opponent was able to clean up its miscues for the Saints game. Even in the two games against Tampa Bay, the 3rd most penalized team in the NFL who average 9 penalties for 71 yards against other teams, they only averaged 5.5 penalties for 42.5 yards per game vs the Saints, two figures which would rank last in the NFL.
As for possible explanations, I don’t exactly have concrete evidence for anything. It’s possible that the Saints are just not a team that does what’s necessary to draw penalties, but that doesn’t seem likely. First, it seems unlikely to begin with that a team could be “good” or “bad” at drawing penalties like fouls in basketball. Secondly, even to whatever extent that’s true, that seems unlikely given the Saints elite defensive line (which should draw holding calls), elite offensive line (which should avoid holding calls), and elite physical wide receiver (who should draw holdings/pass interference more frequently).
The best-case scenario is that this is all dumb luck: that teams simply aren’t committing penalties vs the Saints. That could be a good thing because the Saints are 10-2 despite the worst penalty luck in the NFL. If that regresses to average (as it should if this is the case), the Saints could be looking at an average of about 15-20 yards and 1-2 more penalties per game to their benefit. That’s a first down or two per game, which could show an edge for this team to get even better.
The other explanation that I’m sure has been guessed by now is that this is some “conspiracy.” While the odds that Roger Goodell is having a weekly call with the crew for the Saints game, informing them not to call penalties against the Saints opponent is quite low, it’s possible that there’s a bias (conscious or subconscious) from a group who was heavily criticized by a charge led by the Saints organization and its fans. \*If\* that were to be the case, there’s not much that can be done other than try to overcome this and know you are starting the game with a 30-yard disadvantage on average.
In all, the best we can probably do is hope this is random variance and will even itself out over time.
EDIT: I wrote a part 2 at a friend's suggestion [https://www.reddit.com/r/Saints/comments/e5mq78/part\_2\_analyzing\_the\_saints\_and\_their\_opponents/](https://www.reddit.com/r/Saints/comment ... opponents/