Welcome to the 2005 NFL season - on track to be the worst season ever for penalties. Just as the once proud Dolphins set a franchise record for penalties - 21 in one game, 18 were accepted (think about this for a moment, that number is the most ever since 1966, almost 40 years), the Ravens ON THE SAME DAY top us with 21 penalties.
What's going on and what's happening to the Dolphins, who have 4 games now with heavy penalties? Turnover is certainly one reason. Free agency and the salary cap have caused teams to deal good players (Patrick Surtain, for example) and invest in cheap players (our secondary) to adapt. It has finally caught up.
The average NFL team will turn over about 30% of their team each year. Our Dolphins turned over about 50%. In the days of the Don, as in Shula, our turnover was much lower than that. I guarantee you that Shula could never accomplish today what he did years ago. There is simply too much change, too many players that ought not to be even playing (due to salary cap reasons), and the level of competition is much greater now in the NFL.
There seems to be an unwritten rule this year. The Zebras have decided to let the flags fly and take control. It is a league-wide problem and many coaches, including Nick Saban, are losing a lot of sleep these days. Personally, I think it's a bad trend. It slows the game down and affects the outcome. The Zebras need to slow down and let the players play.
Saban, in his effort to find wolves and not sheeps, is no doubt encouraging an "attitude" of aggression to set the tone for this team. The big picture and long-term success may require some sacrifice today in the form of penalties to develop the wolves he needs to be successful. The new-found aggression, the major turnover this year, and the complicated systems that Linehan and Saban utilize all contribute to hesitancy and mistakes. Saban said the players don't make the mistakes in practice they make in the game. It's simple - the pressure from the game requires a player to go on instincts. Saban's system is simply not second-nature to these guys yet. When you see Kevin Carter and Jason Taylor making bone-headed penalties, it is clear they have not committed Saban's system to memory. They are tentative and thinking too much, which equates to penalties and mental mistakes.
The good news is that the mental mistakes can be corrected. I believe Saban has got this team headed in the right direction and it will simply take time to turn these new wolves into a well-oiled, mistake-free machine.