In spite of the offense and defensive breakdowns, the Ravens can credit another area for their December swoon: Penalties.
With three games remaining, they’ve been penalized for 872 yards, second-most in the NFL. They were 24th one season ago with 742 penalty yards.
They're 0-2 in December going into Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, though penalties have burdened them all season.
“A lot of it earlier in the year was pre-snap penalties on offense. We’ve had a couple games recently where there have been too many of those. That sets you back behind schedule – it came up in the Washington game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s something that you really have to work on. That’s not OK. We can’t be going 1st-and-15. That’s been a number of the penalties.”
Penalties played a major factor in their two losses this month. Chris Johnson was called for pass interference on 3rd-and-6 against the Washington Redskins’ final drive in regulation that resulted in an automatic first down.
The week before, linebacker Paul Kruger was hit with a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer after a 10-yard completion for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The ball was advanced to the Ravens’ 19 with less than two minutes left as they won the game on a last-second field goal.
That’s 16 flags against the Ravens in the last two games, though Harbaugh points out that the first three games under replacement officials have inflated their numbers. There also have been questionable flags against safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard for hitting defenseless receivers.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was called for roughing the passer with the Redskins facing 2nd-and-13 near midfield that helped sustain a drive as they went up 14-7. Then on the Ravens’ next drive at their own 33, left guard Jah Reid’s false start on the first play led to a three-and-out.
Reid's false start in Pittsburgh on 2nd and 10 pushed the Ravens back as Justin Tucker missed a 41-yard field goal. He also had a false start on the Ravens’ first drive at the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 25. They were at their own 40 and never recovered as they soon punted and the offense didn’t find a groove for three quarters in that 16-13 comeback victory in overtime.
"There is no way in the world it’s beneficial for us to be a highly-penalized team. It’s not something that we’re interested in,” Harbaugh said. "I know some coaches say it’s not important. If you look statistically over the years, it has not been a determiner for a win-loss record. But, we don’t care. We think it’s important, and we’re going to try to play as clean as we can for the rest of the way.”