After three games of this NFL season, the Oakland Raiders were feeling good about one aspect of their game: penalties.
After setting NFL records in 2011 for penalties (163) and penalty yards (1,358), Oakland through three games under head coach Dennis Allen and his coaching staff were ranked 29th in penalties and 30th in penalty yards.
The undisciplined play under head coach Hue Jackson had been a focus of Allen and General Manager Reggie McKenzie since taking over the team, and the Raiders appeared to be finally on their way to putting all those yellow flags behind them.
“I think our guys are buying into being a disciplined football team and doing things the right way, and it’s a continual work in progress,” Allen said on Sept. 27. “We’ve had three games, so we’ve got a long way to go. …”
In Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta, however, the yellow flags were back. The Raiders’ old penalty curse returned, and it was costly. As Bill Williamson of ESPN noted Sunday night, “The Raiders improved their penalty issues in the first quarter of the season after setting NFL records for penalties and penalty yards last season. But Sunday, Oakland was sloppy again.”
The Raiders received a season-high 12 penalties for 110 yards, with many of the infractions costly.
Late in the first quarter, a promising Oakland drive was set back by an offensive pass interference call on tight end Brandon Myers, and the Raiders had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown; in the second quarter, Darren McFadden’s 21-yard run was wiped out by a holding penalty on tackle Willie Smith; in the third quarter, Mike Goodson’s 14-yard run was negated by another Smith holding call; and a 17-yard completion from Carson Palmer to Denarius Moore in the fourth quarter was canceled by another holding call, this one against tackle Jared Veldheer.
Time after time, on offense and defense, Oakland infractions proved costly in what turned out to be a very close loss to a previously undefeated team.
“Obviously, penalties affected us,” said Allen, whose team had been flagged for just 19 penalties and 143 yards going into the game.
Though the Raiders made big steps forward in many areas Sunday – particularly on defense, against the run and the pass, and on offense with their own running game – 1-4 Oakland will have to address the penalty problem this week as it prepares to face the 1-4 Jaguars Sunday at the O.co Coliseum.
The Raiders’ margin of error is a thin one, and Allen knows his team needs to play efficiently in all aspects of the game if it hopes to have its best chance to win.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish and win those types of games,” Allen told reporters Monday, following the loss to the Falcons. “That’s what our job is. This is a production business. It’s about winning and losing, and we weren’t able to get it done yesterday.”