The Seahawks are working this week on limiting penalties as they are on an NFL record pace at the halfway point of the NFL season.
For most of the Pete Carroll era the Seahawks have accepted a certain amount of penalties as just part of the team’s overall philosophy and attitude.
“Walking that edge,’’ as Carroll said this week.
It’s a way of life that has served them well in general.
But when it came to penalties, the Seahawks careened off that edge last week against Washington with 16, the second-most in team history and most since 1984, which contributed greatly to a sloppy 17-14 loss.
It also continued a recent spate of flags for Seattle, which leads the NFL with 82 at the midway point of the season, on pace to break the NFL record of 163 set by the Raiders in 2011.
Leading the NFL in penalties is nothing new for Seattle — the Seahawks also did so in 2013 and 2014, each seasons when Seattle advanced to the Super Bowl. During those years Carroll several times noted that there isn’t necessarily a huge statistical correlation between penalties and winning or losing.
And maybe that Seattle has thrived despite a high number of flags has seeped into the team’s collective mind at times.
“I think we have been getting away with wins and kind of overlooking it as players,’’ tight end Luke Willson said this week.
Willson said he thinks “it’s a focus issue and it’s an accountability issue. We have to start holding guys accountable and making sure they are doing the right thing in all aspects. … it comes down to focus and commitment.’’
Carroll said this week he was not at the point yet that anyone’s playing time would be impacted by penalties — meaning, benching anyone as a result. But that’s the one obvious carrot that coaches hold over players.
The Seahawks, though, obviously hope it doesn’t get to that point.
What makes cutting down penalties tricky is that so many players commit so many different kinds — 37 different Seahawks have committed penalties so far this season according to NFLpenalties.com (the Carolina Panthers, who lead the NFL in fewest flags, have just 39 as a team).
But two specific areas stand out — false starts and offensive holding.
The Seahawks have been called for 13 false starts, tied for third-most, and 10 holding calls against the offense (Seattle officially has 13 holding calls if you include those called on returns).
Carroll said of false starts and other pre-snap penalties that “those always irk me the most because those are the ones that are totally self-inflected.’’
Carroll said a few of those in recent weeks have come in situations when Russell Wilson has been changing a play at the line of scrimmage. But a few others, particularly on right tackle Germain Ifedi, have come when he has simply been trying to get a beat on the snap.
Coaches say Ifedi simply has to learn to trust that he can still win his matchup without feeling he has to get a split-second head start.
More vexing have been the holding calls, seven of which offensive line coach Tom Cable said have come when Wilson has taken off scrambling. In those situations coaches say linemen have to focus on disengaging from the defender.
“If you feel him (Wilson) running you’ve got to let go,’’ Cable said. “Because you’re locked in a pretty good spot when he’s inside the pocket. But when he’s out then your hands get exposed.’’
It’s been a particular problem for Ifedi, who has been called for five holds — his overall total of 10 penalties leads the NFL as does 12 total called (two have been declined).
“He is one that has not really nailed the sense of when Russell is getting out on his side, he’s got to release,’’ Carroll said. “But he has had his share and it’s definitely a point of emphasis that has been there for some time now. It’s disappointing that we aren’t fixing this faster.”
That Wilson runs as much as he does obviously complicates things a little bit. Carroll said this week there are times Wilson maybe needs to hang in the pocket more.
But Cable said that’s not the concern of the offensive line.
“Everyone would say that sometimes if you just wait one more hitch and you might get the throw you want,’’ Cable said. “But the truth of it is that he’s the best in the game at what he does, so we have to adapt. If we really understand and be a little more instinctive I think that when we feel him go, let go, we can cut that down. It’s hard on them – I think. The QB’s inside and then the next moment he’s over there their hands right here. You’re locked in It’s tough.’’
This is Ifedi’s first year playing tackle for the Seahawks after playing guard last season as a rookie.
While Cable said that switch has thrust Ifedi into a different role this year “we’re not giving him an out here. And that’s really at the end of the day for this whole team, do right play strong. However you want to say it. They’ve got to learn to adjust and do the right things and play smart.’’
To Cable, one of the shames of it all is that he thinks Ifedi has progressed this season, something hard to see in the hail of flags.
“The truth of it is that he’s playing really good if you get the penalties out of his game, he’s playing exceptional for a second-year first time starter at right tackle,’’ . That’s what my goal is, to clean him up. What that means is instead of being in the cylinder – like we talk about the strike zone, you might have a hand that starts to creep up and gets out here to the shoulder, and so if I can keep it in the frame of the body.’’