2014 Point of Emphasis Penalties
Much has been made of the fact that the NFL intends to put an emphasis on all the defensive pass related penalties in 2014. (Defensive Holding, Illegal Contact, and Defensive Pass Interference). Offensive pass interference is also listed as a point of emphasis. Throughout the 2014 preseason flags for these penalties were constant and had many people worried that the real games were going to be dramatically altered.
Only one week of the NFL season is in the books, but let's see how things are shaking out so far.
Penalties Per Game
Defensive HoldingDefensive holding has been on a steady climb all five years for which we have data. 2013 concluded with an average of .678 flags per game. In week one of 2014 there were .938 flags per game. This is an increase of.26 calls per game (+38%).
Illegal ContactIllegal contact was in slight decline from 2009 until 2012. In 2013 officials seem to have mostly forgotten it was a penalty. 2013 concluded with an average of .142 flags per game. In week one of 2014 there were .5 flags per game. This is an increase of .358 calls per game (+252%).
Defensive Pass InterferenceDefensive pass interference is up and down. 2013 concluded with an average of .925 flags per game. In week one of 2014 there were .813 flags per game. This is a decrease of .112 calls per game (-14%).
Offensive Pass InterferenceOffensive pass interference is the most steady of the group. 2013 concluded with an average of .247 flags per game. In week one of 2014 there were .375 flags per game. This is an increase of .128 calls per game (+52%).
Conclusion Through Week One
I'm really not sure what to make of things. "What?!" I hear you say. "Illegal contact is up 252%!!". Well, yes, it is, but I'm still not sure we have any real cause for concern.
Small sample size argument aside, and ignoring that the increase is sort of artificially high because the number was so low in 2013, we're still talking about fractions of penalties per game here. Even at a 252% increase, I'm not sure how alarmed we can reasonably be about the fact that illegal contact is called once in every two games. At this "crazy" pace teams will, on average, be flagged four times this season for illegal contact. Defensive PI is actually dipping. The most frequently called of the four penalties we're looking at here still doesn't get called once per game. I think it's safe to say the sky is not falling.
We'd need access to some kind of magic "should have been" data to be sure, but I think it's resonable to postulate that something that could rightly be called illegal contact happens more than once every 2 games. We almost certainly haven't crossed the point where penalties are being called at or beyond how often they actually happen. I'd go so far as to guess we're not even close to that number. As such, in my opinion, there's no real cause for concern that games will be unwatchable due to all the flags.