Vikings Need to Stop Beating Themselves with Penalties

Oct 31, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

As Week 10 winds to a close even a casual Minnesota Vikings observer can see how much penalties are hampering us this season. The Vikings are costing, or nearly costing, themselves games with the lack of on-field discipline they are displaying. While it is easy to look at defensive penalties and see how it helps the other team pick up yardage and first downs, it is just as costly to have offensive penalties. Offensive penalties, even small ones, hinder our already struggling offense by pushing them further back.

Analyzing the Penalties

A closer look at the numbers shows that through 9 games the Minnesota Vikings have 69 total penalties. Those add up to 668 yards; 38 of them on offense and 24 on defense. When you dig further down into the types of penalties the majority are on offensive holding with 23, the next closest is false starts at 11 and defensive pass interference with 6. In comparison to the numbers for 2020, the Vikings are well over average. In 2020, the Vikings had 82 penalties for 650 yards. There were 46 on offense and 25 on defense. Once again, the breakdown shows that offensive pass interference was the leader with 19, the second was false starts, and the third delay of game. While looking at these stats we need to bear in mind that it does not include offsetting penalties or ones that are declined.

Is This Because the Refs Hate Minnesota?

Social media is full of fans who feel the refs single the Vikings out for penalties. However, as of Week 10, the NFL refs are calling about 4 more penalties per game than the usual average. The Minnesota Vikings are currently the 5th most penalized NFL team. The Carolina Panthers are the most penalized team with 74 penalties. It is hard to place the blame on the referees, or even one particular referee when the refs change pretty much every game.

If you compare the more penalized Vikings games to the average number of flags thrown by individual referees, you can see that generally the refs who throw more flags overall also did so during Minnesota games.

It may be noteworthy that more penalties are thrown at away games than at home games, thus causing fans to imply refs are “homers.” There has even been some research done in this area showing that home teams have an advantage, which makes sense (it is called “home-field advantage” after all). However, there are so many factors that go into that advantage including noise, a friendly crowd, a familiar environment, etc. In addition, while NFL refs are people too, and make (plenty of) mistakes, they are national refs and aren’t supposed to have a vested interest in one team or another. It certainly does not make sense that they are all anti-Vikings.

OpponentReferee Name# of PenaltiesHome or AwayWin/Loss
CincinnatiAdrian Hill12AwayLoss
ArizonaBill Vinovich3AwayLoss
SeattleClay Martin4HomeWin
ClevelandTony Corrente7HomeLoss
DetroitClete Blakeman7HomeWin
CarolinaCraig Wrolstad11AwayWin
DallasScott Novak7HomeLoss
BaltimoreCarl Cheffers8AwayLoss
LA ChargersClay Martin10AwayWin
Comparison of Minnesota Viking referees by game

Then What is Causing All the Laundry?

So, if it isn’t the referees, what is causing the excessive number of penalties this season?

If we look at all other factors as being equal – we have to place some of the blame on the team and the players themselves. The Viking’s most penalized player is Oli Udoh, who had penalties for 74 yards so far this season – 1 false start, 6 holds, 1 unnecessary roughness. It makes him the 3rd most penalized player in the entire NFL.

If we look at the team as a whole they just look sloppy and undisciplined. During the game against Dallas, we had a delay of game on the defense! That rarely happens.

Game Specifics

When you lose a game or barely win a game, you look at all the factors that contributed. This season the penalties are having a huge impact. In the first game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Vikings had more penalties in the 1st half of the game than in any entire game during that bleak 2020 season. There were 12 penalties, combining for 116 yards; the offense was to blame for 9 of them. Minnesota ended up losing that game, so you have to consider the impact those penalties had. It digs your quarterback into a deep hole and makes it hard to win when the team is always playing catch-up.  The defensive penalties all season have been enough to keep other teams in the game when we should have been able to put the nail in the coffin.

During the most recent game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota nearly cost itself the game by committing penalties. On paper Minnesota was the better team that day, but the penalties and a few questionable play calls let LA hang around longer than they should have. Consider this statistic in case you don’t agree – at just past the two minute warning in the second half, the Vikings had 93 yards of penalties while the Chargers only had 94 yards of offense.

How Do We Improve Going Forward?

It sounds so simple to say we need to tighten up and become more disciplined. However, sometimes it is just that basic.

There are always going to be penalties in NFL games and sometimes they will work against you. Teams cannot play, prepare for, or avoid every penalty, but they can minimize the number of avoidable ones. The team, especially the offensive line, needs to work on fundamentals. This includes things like dealing with crowd noise and snap counts. At the beginning of the season, you could understand how a year without fans might make the transition back to noise a challenge. But now we are more than halfway through and players should be settling back in.

The coaches need to get the players to focus on their timing and the timing of the game – take measures to avoid penalties during critical moments. The players need to practice, practice, practice – repetition, replication, and experience will help correct those errors. For fans we certainly hope so, we finally saw some more aggressive play-calling last weekend, it would be a shame to lose that to penalties.