Lions Penalties: The Stephen Peterman Problem

A running joke amongst Lions fans this season has been the Stephen Peterman penalty watch, where we essentially wait for him to commit at least one penalty a game. In the game threads, for example, there will be five or so comments saying something to the effect of "there's Peterman's one stupid penalty a game" when a flag is finally thrown. The one consistent thing this season has been Peterman getting penalties, and this running joke is just about the only way to laugh off the awfulness he brings to the table when it comes to being flagged.

Although the running joke calls for only one penalty on Peterman per game, the numbers show that he is actually committing more than one penalty a game. Looking up the numbers on NFLGSIS.com reveals that Peterman has 11 penalties so far this season. One of those penalties was declined, but the other 10 were accepted. He is responsible for 78 penalty yards and nullifying 38 yards for the offense. According to the numbers, he has stalled three drives this season.

Looking at a breakdown of Peterman's penalties, he has been responsible for at least one flag in seven of the nine games. Four times he has been called for two penalties in one game, which is why he is averaging more than a penalty a game right now.

Of his 11 penalties, six have been false start calls. He has only been flagged for holding once, and the other penalties are two chop blocks (which apparently were good calls based on a little-known, highly open-ended NFL rule), one personal foul and one illegal use of the hands call.

To put Peterman's penalty problem into perspective, all we have to do is look back at the numbers since 2000. From 2000-09, there were six occurrences where a player had 11 or more penalties in an entire season. Peterman has already hit that number this season in only nine games. Here is a look at the seven total occurrences of at least 11 penalties by one player in a season from now going back to 2000:

2001 Jeff Backus (11)

2003 Stockar McDougle (11)

2004 James Hall (13)

2004 Shaun Rogers (12)

2006 Jeff Backus (13)

2008 Jeff Backus (11)

2010 Stephen Peterman (11)

With seven games to play, Peterman is only two penalties away from matching the single-season high by one player since 2000. He is on pace to have a total of 20 penalties this season, which would absolutely shatter the previous single-season high from the last 10 years.

I'm not sure what Peterman's problem this year has been with penalties, because in the previous three seasons where he was a regular starter he didn't have more than six penalties in a single season. He had six in 2007, when he started in 13 games; two in 2008, when he started in 14 games; and three last season, when he started in nine games.

The question the Lions need to ask themselves at this point is if Peterman's talent is enough to offset the ridiculous amount of penalties he is racking up. The Lions' guard depth isn't all that great, so it's entirely possible that the drop off would be too big from Peterman to a potential replacement, making a move just because of the penalty issue pointless. Even so, something needs to be done. Peterman's penalty numbers are out of this world for nine games compared to the past decade of players for the Lions.

I'm not sure if benching him is the answer because penalties typically haven't been a huge issue in the past, but the Lions need to figure something out. Right now Peterman is responsible for 11% of the Lions' penalties. The next highest number of penalties by one player is seven by Corey Williams. Although that is pretty high, all of Williams' penalties have been five yards and obviously aren't nullifying yards gained by the Lions' offense. The same can't be said for Peterman, who is responsible for backing the Lions up 78 yards and costing them 38 yards of offense.

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