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Seeing yellow: Bears' penalties on offense the biggest problem

Spent some time before kickoffs to the games on Sunday taking a look at the Bears’ situation with those pesky yellow flags the officials seem to be throwing on a more frequent basis.

The Bears tied their season high with 10 penalties in Thursday’s loss at San Francisco, and they have had nine or more penalties in four of the nine games. Entering Sunday’s games, only one team had more penalties (61) and one team had more yards penalized (509) than the Bears, but obviously that changed with the action. We’ll get a clear look at where they rank in the league after the fantastically unappealing Monday night tilt this evening between Baltimore and Cleveland. The Browns could use a break from prime time.

So here’s what I found … with 61 penalties for 509 yards, the Bears are pretty much on pace for what their average is under Lovie Smith. The team had a low in the Smith era of 78 penalties for only 610 yards last season. The average in five seasons under Smith is 106 penalties for 836 yards. At the current pace, the 2009 Bears will finish with 108 penalties for 905 yards.

Let’s look at the annual numbers:

2004: 124-956*

2005: 105-850

2006: 112-923

2007: 111-839

2008: 78-610

* 124 penalties set a franchise high

I have a comprehensive breakdown of every type of penalty and who committed what infraction below. But first, it’s time to acknowledge some terrific work done by Greg Bedard at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Yes, the Green Bay Packers have been having their own penalty problems and entered Sunday’s game vs. Dallas with 62 penalties, one more than the Bears with one less game played. He cited some work by the fine folks at Football Outsiders that proved that there is very little to link a team’s record and the accumulation of defensive and special-teams penalties.

“In their 2007 Pro Football Prospectus, Aaron Schatz and Bill Barnwell from footballoutsiders.com studied penalties from 2002-’06. They found there was “almost zero” correlation between record and defensive or special-team penalties. There was, however, a much stronger correlation with offensive penalties.”

Unfortunately, 30 of the Bears’ 61 penalties count against the offense, a result of 15 false starts. Right tackle Chris Williams is credited with a team-high five penalties, four of them false starts although there was one false start assigned to the team and replays showed it was likely he was the guilty party. Quarterback Jay Cutler has committed four penalties himself. The Bears have been called for six personal fouls–five unnecessary roughness call and one unsportsmanlike conduct–and they have also been hit with three facemask infractions.

Certainly one of the things that jumped out also was that the Bears have nine offside penalties vs. the defense. That’s the same type of a infraction as a false start for the offense and when a team has 24 of those combined, well, that’s an issue. Smith has downplayed penalties to this point, and said they’re uncharacteristic. If uncharacteristic means he understands they’re on pace for pretty much what they average under him, he’s correct.

Here is a breakdown of all the penalties:

Penalties the Bears have been called for

15–False start

12–Offensive holding

9–Defensive offside

5–Unnecessary roughness

3–Illegal block above the waist

3–Facemask

2–Defensive pass interference

2–Offensive pass interference

2–Delay of game

1–Offensive offside

1–Unsportsmanlike conduct

1–Intentional grounding

1–Illegal crackback block

1–12 men on the field

1–Defensive holding

1–Running into the kicker

1–Ineligible man downfield

Yards lost by penalties

110–Offensive holding

75–False start

74–Unnecessary roughness

45–Defensive offside

43–Facemask

37–Defensive pass interference

30–Illegal block above the waist

20–Offensive pass interference

15–Unsportsmanlike conduct

15–Illegal crackback block

10–Delay of game

10–Intentional grounding

5–Offensive offside

5–12 men on the field

5–Defensive holding

5–Running into the kicker

5–Ineligible man downfield

Penalties by players

Chris Williams, 5 penalties, 35 yards (4 false starts, 1 unnecessary roughness)

Alex Brown, 4 penalties, 38 yards (2 offside, 1 unnecessary roughness, 1 facemask)

Jay Cutler, 4 penalties, 45 yards (1 unsportsmanlike conduct, 1 illegal crackback, 1 intentional grounding, 1 delay of game)

Frank Omiyale, 4 penalties, 25 yards (3 false starts, 1 holding)

Tommie Harris, 3 penalties, 25 yards (1 unnecessary roughness, 2 offside)

Devin Hester, 3 penalties, 20 yards (1 holding, 2 false start)

Orlando Pace, 3 penalties, 25 yards (2 holding, 1 false start)

Anthony Adams, 2 penalties, 20 yards (1 facemask, 1 offside)

Al Afalava 2 penalties, 15 yards (1 holding, 1 offside)

Earl Bennett, 2 penalties, 15 yards (1 offside, 1 pass interference)

Zack Bowman, 2 penalties, 28 yards (1 pass interference, 1 illegal block above the waist)

Rashied Davis, 2 penalties, 18 yards (2 holding)

Roberto Garza, 2 penalties, 15 yards (1 false start, 1 holding)

Corey Graham, 2 penalties, 20 yards (1 illegal block above the waist, 1 holding)

Olin Kreutz, 2 penalties, 7 yards (1 false start, 1 holding)

Adewale Ogunleye, 2 penalties, 10 yards (2 offside)

Nick Roach, 2 penalties, 34 yards (1 facemask, 1 pass interference)

Charles Tillman, 2 penalties, 10 yards (1 holding, 1 offside)

Jamar Williams, 2 penalties, 15 yards (1 holding, 1 running into the kicker)

Team, 2 penalties, 10 yards (1 12 men on the field, 1 false start)

Mark Anderson, 1 penalty, 15 yards (1 unnecessary roughness)

Josh Beekman, 1 penalty 5 yards (1 false start)

Johnny Knox, 1 penalty, 5 yards (1 false start)

Brad Maynard, 1 penalty, 5 yards (1 delay of game)

Jason McKie, 1 penalty, 10 yards (1 holding)

Greg Olsen, 1 penalty, 10 yards (1 offensive pass interference)

Kevin Payne, 1 penalty, 15 yards (1 unnecessary roughness)

Adrian Peterson, 1 penalty, 10 yards (1 illegal block above the waist)

Garrett Wolfe, 1 penalty, 5 yards (1 ineligible man downfield)

Additionally, seven penalties vs. the Bears have been declined or superseded. That includes three more defensive offside calls, two vs. Alex Brown and one vs. Danieal Manning.