NFL Penalty Tracker

The Obligatory Answers to Questions That, Generally, No One Ever Asked

Submitted Friday, December 7th 2012 7:40 pm

Why make the site?

It all began with the classic confirmation bias filled internet argument over a player and their frequent ability to get away with murder, or not. I found it annoying that there was essentially no data or information available on the internet regarding penalties. At best there was overall team data, but it didn't get broken down much further than that, and there was absolutely nothing as far as player's penalties. So I set off to see if I could make such a thing, and then, once I proved that I could, I lost interest in actually finishing it. It seemed like no matter what I decided to show there would be 100 other ways to view the data. I was never satisfied with anything. And so it sat for a season and a half, until I decided something was better than nothing, and finished it enough to make it public.

Where's the data from?

The play by play data shown on

Then why don't your numbers match

Two reasons.  One, because doesn't match There are many games (maybe 5%) where the penalties in the play by play data simply don't add up to the numbers listed in the box score, and I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the numbers in the box scores didn't total up to the overall numbers. For example, the box score will say the Steelers had 5 penalties for 46 yards, but there are only 4 penalties for 39 yards spelled out by the play by play data. Since this site needs the details that only the play by play data can give anyway, I use those numbers. I could use both, where appropriate, but I've opted to make this site internally consistent. (And who says the "6 for 75 yards" box score penalty summaries are the right numbers anyway.) I've personally, and painstakingly, checked every game where there was a discrepancy between the box score and the play by play data to ensure it wasn't just a programming mistake. 

Two, sometimes, declined and offsetting penalties...

Why do declined/offsetting penalties show some places and not elsewhere?

When I first started this I viewed it as sort of a "bet settling" website. I figured a big part of why people would care about this data is the same reason I made it. "So and so never gets called for ____" vs "he gets called for that more than 3 other people". Personally, I don't see the fact that a penalty is declined as very relevant to that argument. That player, and in turn that team, still committed that penalty. The fact that they allowed something worse to happen, or that the other team had some other penalty on the play, so that the penalty "didn't count" is sort of beside the point, if the point is whom gets flagged for what.  Especially since, with many penalties, a decline is even worse. (Picture a team that uses the free play the defensive offsides gives them to take a successful, no risk, shot at the end zone.) However, it seems my take on that is just interpreted as the numbers being "wrong" by pretty much every other human being on the planet. So I've been fazing that out, and adding it in separate columns, where appropriate. 

Player Data - I know so and so was called for a penalty, but I don't see it on their page.

The play by play data often doesn't actually name the player. Sometimes just because the ref didn't announce one, other times because the player is just a formality. (Delay of game is a common culprit, I suspect because it's really more of a team penalty than it is "on the quarterback", so the ref doesn't say it.) Other times the player is just misidentified, and is sometimes corrected later on Send me a link to the play by play data that has the properly attributed penalty, if you spot an error. 

So how reliable is this site if it has all those "issues"?

Any data driven repository is only going to be as accurate as the data, and I don't have a lot of control over the data.  The site isn't going to say that the Chargers have 53 penalties when they really have 23 or 83, but don't bet your first born on that number being exactly 53 either. It's all relative. There's no reason to think that any flaw in the process would apply to one team more than any other team.  

Why don't you show _____?

Sometimes I don't have the information. For example, at this time there are no pages by position (Offensive linemen, DBs etc) because I simply don't have that data. All I get about players is their name in first initial last name format. (C.Ponder) There are also endless ways I could show the data. Some I have planned, others I might not think of. If you have a suggestion use the "Let Us Know" link provided down in the footer.

past blogs

Roughing The Passer - He Who Cannot Be Touched
Saturday, February 18th 2:01 pm
What Is A Play?
Sunday, October 23rd 9:11 pm
Yes, Deflategate Is Kind Of A Big Deal
Tuesday, May 12th 9:40 pm

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