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Matt Calkins: Seahawks have no room for error in penalty-prone season

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 16, 2017, 5:28 p.m.

Seattle’s Michael Bennett sacks Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson  during the first half of last season’s game  in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Seattle’s Michael Bennett sacks Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson during the first half of last season’s game in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – History is in their sight. All the Seahawks have to do is keep pace.

Just seven more weeks of holding, false starting and jumping offside, and they’ll have it – the most penalties in NFL history.

Through nine games, the Seahawks have had 94 flags thrown on them. At that rate, they’ll finish with 167 and break the 2011 Raiders’ record by four. They are also on pace for 1,387 penalty yards, which would also be a record.

One of the most famous Seattle-related quotes was when USC quarterback Todd Marinovich said, “All I saw was purple” after a 31-0 upset loss to Washington. The Seahawks? All they see is yellow.

“That’s something we’re going to get better at,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday.

Except he’s been saying that for three weeks now.

It’s not as though a high penalty count is new for a Carroll-coached team. In his first seven seasons in Seattle, the Seahawks led the NFL in penalties three times – including the two seasons they reached the Super Bowl.

They weren’t necessarily winning despite the flag parties. The penalties reflected a certain edge the team played with more than they did a lack of discipline.

But this year, it’s getting out of control. The Seahawks’ 10.44 penalties per game are 2.34 more than the average for the Jets, who have the second most in the NFL. For context, the Jets have 2.43 more penalties per game than the Vikings and Titans, who are tied for 29th in the league.

The lost yards and stripped first downs cost Seattle dearly in the loss to Washington two games ago. The 11 flags for 98 yards didn’t help in the loss to Tennessee in Week 3.

Carroll said he has put an emphasis on limiting the penalties in practice, but as the 12 flags and 108 lost yards against Arizona on Thursday showed, the message isn’t seeping in.

So what’s going on?

I broached the subject with defensive end Michael Bennett, whose six flags this year are the second most on the team. Somewhat notorious for jumping offside – but also known for getting a jump on blockers when he guesses right on the snap – Bennett knows the situation has to improve.

“Penalties are a part of the game, but some penalties you gotta work on and narrow them down,” he said. “When we start playing these teams like Atlanta and other great teams, we can’t afford to have these types of issues.”

It’s not just one area in which they’re struggling, either. The Seahawks are ahead of the league average in 22 penalty categories.

But offensive holding and false starting have been the primary culprits – and one man has been particularly prolific in those areas.

Seahawks right tackle Germain Ifedi leads the NFL with 11 penalties, two more than anyone else. He has had five false starts, five holding calls and one unnecessary-roughness flag.

Ifedi said he needs to learn to let go of pass-rushers earlier when quarterback Russell Wilson is scrambling, which echoed a point Carroll made last week. He said he needs to be cognizant of the false starts and try to narrow them down.

So Ifedi is learning from his mistakes, but he’s not dwelling on them. Big difference, he said.

“When I get a penalty I think, ‘Why’d I get that penalty? – OK, that’s why,’ ” Ifedi said. “But you don’t want to dwell on it. You don’t want that to start seeping into your ball. You can’t start thinking, ‘OK, I can’t do this.’ Just play your ball, do your thing, but be conscious of it, be aware of it.”

It’s worth noting that 10 of the 12 teams in NFL history to be penalized 90 times or more through the first nine games of the season had winning records at the time. The Seahawks have proven as much as anyone that there isn’t always a correlation between a high flag count and success.

This year, however, it’s becoming problematic. And unlike seasons past, there isn’t any room for error.

If the Seahawks keep up this penalty pace, they’ll make history. But if they don’t fix the flag issues come playoff time, it won’t be long before they ARE history.

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