- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2012

Early in the season, it looked like the Washington Redskins could be special. They won at New Orleans and might have been 2-0 if not for a Joshua Morgan personal-foul penalty and some other mistakes.

Morgan’s penalty — and 10 more against St. Louis — revealed an underlying problem. Still, coach Mike Shanahan assured that the Redskins “are a very disciplined football team” and guaranteed “at the end of the day we won’t have those penalties.”

Seven games later, they still do. Penalties are one of the reasons why the Redskins are 3-6 as they continue to beat themselves, and trying to find a way to turn the troublesome trend around is one of the biggest questions coming out of the bye week.

“It’s really kind of disheartening because you work on that, and that’s always been a phase that we’ve been pretty good at,” Shanahan said. “But we’ll get better at it. I know we will.”

With a razor’s edge being the margin of error the rest of the way, the Redskins don’t have much choice but to improve in a lot of areas, including penalties. Through the first nine weeks, they’ve committed 82 penalties, 75 of which have been accepted for 649 yards. That’s the worst in the NFL.

Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall was ejected from Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh after ... more >

“I think we can be more disciplined: the pre-snap penalties, the snap count, false starts and illegal procedures,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “I think we can be more disciplined in that field because the structure of this team is very disciplined. Mike runs a very discipline-structured team. We’re just not proving it when the time comes to show how disciplined you are. We’re just kind of off, man, and I don’t know what to put it on. We’re just off.”

Sunday was the harshest example in a while, as 13 penalties for 97 yards derailed the Redskins‘ chance to make a game of it against the lowly Carolina Panthers.

Tight end Chris Cooley called it “an interesting game as far as penalties went.” and cornerback Josh Wilson declined to talk about “any ref calls.”

Duly noted. But it still showed the epidemic of penalties that has plagued the Redskins‘ season and led to what players and the coaching staff need to do to fix it.

“Just focus in more. Being more disciplined, especially like the pre-snap penalties, whether it’s offsides or false starts, things like that, illegal formations — things that don’t take place once the ball is snapped,” middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “Once you get into the ball is snapped, obviously you want to play with great technique because a lot of times the technique is what gets you in trouble, whether it’s a holding penalty, a pass interference penalty, things like that. Just doing those things.”

The Redskins have committed 15 offensive holding penalties, 14 false starts and seven defensive pass interference penalties. Among the 28 different infractions called against them this year there’s a healthy mix of pre-snap, technique and aggression penalties.

Shanahan joked that whips could be used in practice to punish players for penalties. But what can he really do to cut down on the flags?

“We try to practice at game speed all the time, and usually you practice at game speed, usually it carries over to limited penalties,” he said. “This year, for some reason, has not gone like it has in the past for me.”

Shanahan’s methods have been successful. Last year’s 5-11 Redskins were in the middle of the pack leaguewide with 91 penalties for 897 yards. Counting 2010 and his last seven years with the Denver Broncos, Shanahan has not coached a team that finished higher than 12th in penalties or yards penalized.

As the head coach, Shanahan is blamed for this year’s problems.

Story Continues →