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One year ago, the Ravens led the NFL in yards lost to penalties.
One year later, they are leading the league in drawing those flags on opponents.
In a calculated goal throughout the offseason, Baltimore has triggered the most opponent infractions of any team, enjoying the benefit of 52 penalties for 419 yards from opponents, which has contributed to their current 4-1 record atop the AFC North.
“I think we’ve put pressure on opponents in some ways to grab us,” said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. “We’ve had some pressures that are coming clean, they’ve grabbed us and they’ve gotten holding penalties as a result.”
Since Harbaugh came to the Ravens in 2008, he’s implemented the practice of regularly using college officials at practice to call the sessions tight and condition his players to play within the rules.
Should a player get a flag in practice, you won’t see coaches complaining. Instead, they teach the proper technique so those yellow hankies don’t come out on Sunday.
The Ravens are also very active in sending plays to the NFL league office for further explanation on how rules are interpreted every week.
And it seems to be working.
In 2009, the Ravens were penalized a league-high 1,094 yards. Now, they are tied for 16th with 30 flags thrown through five games, costing 261 yards (15th).
The payoff is exemplified in a key pass-interference call last Sunday against the Denver Broncos, where cornerback Perrish Cox did not play the football on a pass to Derrick Mason in the end zone. The penalty led to running back Ray Rice scoring a 1-yard touchdown on the next play.
Do all teams employ Harbaugh’s tactics?
“I don’t know if it’s common practice or not,” he commented. “You try to do everything you can do as a coach in every area. I just credit our players. I think our players have studied, and of course, it’s a group effort. We work together – coaches and players and everybody – to kind of find out what we need to understand about the way the game is played and the way it’s officiated and the way the rules work.
“To me, it comes down to playing fast with great technique. If you play fast and you play with attention to detail as it relates to technique, then you have a chance to play within the rules and not get called. We have done a good job of that so far this year. But you know what? Every week is a new week.”