Penalties Most Imant Issue Facing Colts, Dungy Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Tony Dungy didn't hesitate.
Dungy, in his seventh season as the Colts' head coach, said shortly after a loss to Green Bay this past weekend it was perhaps the team's sloppiest game in his seven-year tenure. The following day, he was asked the No. 1 priority facing the team.
The answer came easy. Penalties.
Dungy, whose teams are historically among the NFL's least-penalized, said that was true before a 34-14 loss Sunday, and he said the issue is key to the fundamentals and philosophies that have made Indianapolis one of the NFL's most-consistently successful franchises for the last six seasons.
It's also, he said, a key as the Colts move forward this season.
"We have always been a team that's prided ourselves on not getting penalties," Dungy said as the Colts (3-3) prepared to play the unbeaten Tennessee Titans (6-0) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Monday at 8:30 p.m.
It's a pride that pre-dates Dungy's tenure with the Colts.
Dungy, in 12 previous seasons as NFL coach, never has had a team rank below 10th in the NFL in fewest penalties, and five times in that period – in 2005 and last season with the Colts and in 1997, 1999 and 2000 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – his teams have ranked in the top three.
"You just can't afford to give good teams second chances," Dungy said. "You can't afford to make yourself go longer than you have to to score. That's what we've done the last two weeks. . . . We work on it. We believe if you use proper techniques you won't get penalties."
Last season, the Colts ranked third in fewest penalties with 67 for 515 yards, the fewest penalties a Colts team has committed in his tenure.
This season the Colts have committed 46 penalties for 347 yards.
That total ranks 19th in the NFL.
"You're not going to win many games that way," Dungy said.
The Colts in the last two weeks have committed 23 penalties, 11 against Baltimore two weeks ago and 12 against the Green Bay Packers this past week. The Colts beat the Ravens, 31-3, but lost to the Packers with seven of the penalties on defense and five of those leading to first downs.
"We can't have those penalties we had," Colts defensive end Raheem Brock said.
The Packers scored 13 points on possessions during which Indianapolis committed a defensive penalties, and seven more on a possession following a special teams penalty that gave Green Bay a first down. The Packers scored two defensive touchdowns, meaning all of the Packers' offensive points followed Colts defensive or special teams penalties.
One of the penalties gave the Packers a first down after a 6-yard gain on 3rd-and-9, and another – a 25-yard pass interference penalty – turned an incomplete pass on 2nd-and-3 into a 1st-and-10 on the Colts 34. The special teams penalty turned 4th-and-3 into 1st-and-10 at the Colts 41 and another defensive penalty turned 3rd-and-8 at the Colts 34 into 1st-and-10 at the Colts 28.
"We left them on the field five times when we should have been off it," Colts President Bill Polian said. "We had a penalty in the kicking game that gave them a first down. That's six penalties that directly led to first downs. This is no criticism of the officiating, by the way. The officiating was good, from my perspective. . . . The officiating had nothing to do with it."
Said Dungy, "They create big differences. On their first drive, we got them (the Packers) stopped around the 30-yard line. We had a holding penalty that gave them a first down. They were going to have to kick a 47-yard field goal into the wind. They might have still made it, but they might not have. They got to keep the ball four more minutes and kick an easy field goal. We got another one (in the second quarter) where (linebacker) Clint Session made a good play on a screen (pass) and it should have been 3rd-and-8. It ended up being an automatic first down and two minutes later they scored a touchdown. It was that way all day.
"You can't give good teams that many extra opportunities. You can't take away opportunities from yourself. That's what Sunday's game was about and that's why it was 34-14."
Colts players said this week the issue will be a priority this week as they prepare for Tennessee, a team that has been penalized six fewer times for 60 fewer yards than the Colts.
"We prepared well last week," Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson said. "We didn't think we would have that many penalties, especially on third downs. There were just a lot of key penalties. We just have to stay positive and do what we do. We have to cut the penalties out. We have to be more disciplined in what we do."
Said Brock, "We just have to work on being consistent and being more disciplined. We have a lot of things to work on. We're way too inconsistent right now."
Dungy, while saying the Colts ideally would commit no penalties in a game, said the goal set weekly by the coaching staff is a penalty total of five. That, he said, allows for one per half on defense, one per half on offense and one throughout the game on special teams.
"We've been very close to averaging five a game (throughout his first six seasons), and that is going to put you in the upper echelon of the league," he said. "But seven, eight, 10, 12 – there's just no reason for it."
And while the penalty totals of the past two weeks are distasteful, Dungy said the trend is one that began early in the season.
"All year we have had bad penalties," Dungy said. "The first three or four games they just came at the wrong time. There weren't a lot of them, but still, we got a penalty on fourth down that cost us the game against Jacksonville. Then, we got 11 against Baltimore. That was uncharacteristic and we got more this week.
"We have to be technique-sound, doing things right, and avoid those. They will beat you."
The Colts throughout the season have dealt with injuries on a weekly basis. In addition to quarterback Peyton Manning missing training camp and preseason after off-season knee surgery, center Jeff Saturday, offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, running back Joseph Addai, tight end Dallas Clark, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safety Bob Sanders are among Colts starters who have missed time because of injuries.
That has meant young, inexperienced players playing, and experienced players in new positions, but Dungy said that has had little to do with the penalties.
"It would be one thing if it were our guys young, our rookies, getting those penalties, but it's everyone," he said. "Some of the pre-snap penalties – the false starts, the offsides on defense those things are just concentration. Then, there are other things that are technique stuff: you have to have your hands (right) and do thing the right way. It's basic, fundamental, training-camp football. . . .
"We talk about it enough. We stress it. We coach everybody the same way. We shouldn't have those kinds of penalties."
Dungy said some of the penalties, if not forgivable, are in a sense unavoidable. On Sunday, safety Jamie Silva was called for unsportsmanlike conduct when he was blocking a defender on special teams and didn't hear a whistle.
"Some of those, they happen, and you want them not to happen, but you can live with them," Dungy said. "But the automatic, first-down holding penalties (on defense) – and the hands to the face, those kinds of things – those are what we have to eliminate. We look at what causes it and what we can do and what we should do to avoid it. Most of the time it is a technique problem.
"There are some you really can't help, but there are others that can be (eliminated)."
Mostly, Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said, the issue is about individual players making better decisions, and executing what they have been taught.
"Guys just have to be accountable for each other," said Brackett, the Colts' defensive captain. "They don't want to jump offsides. They don't want to do it. It's just about them focusing more. Yelling and screaming – I don't think that does anything. That divides us more than anything.
"Obviously, the guys who made a couple of those mistakes need to clean that up, then I think we'll be all right."