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49ers Penalties: Aimed For The Foot, But Just Grazed It?

One of the major keys to victory yesterday was the fact that the 49ers managed to not turn over the ball, while also forcing the Raiders into a pair of turnovers. The 49ers posted a stat that the team has never lost under Mike Singletary when they win the turnover battle. This isn't exactly rocket science, but it puts into perspective just how awful the 49ers were playing the first five weeks of the season. Every time they seemed to take a step forward in a game, they'd have to stop and pause shortly thereafter because they'd just blown a huge hole through their foot.

I mentioned yesterday (primarily on Twitter) that I would enjoy the win because it's been a rough season and it's nice to enjoy the first W for at least a little bit. Well, I'm still enjoying it, but I certainly have no problem starting the long-hard look at some of the problems that exist. While the 49ers did win the turnover battle, they did an amazingly awful job when it came to penalties. Over the course of the game the 49ers were assessed 11 penalties for 143 yards, with two other penalties declined.

Looking through the ESPN Play-By-Play, here's a breakdown of the penalties:

Shawntae Spencer - PI - 46 yards
Josh Morgan - Holding - 10 yards
Ahmad Brooks - False Start (punt unit) - 5 yards
Dashon Goldson - Unnecessary Roughness - 15 yards
Anthony Dixon - Holding (punt return) - 10 yards
Phillip Adams - Holding (kick return) - 10 yards
Joe Staley - Holding - 10 yards
Joe Staley - Holding - 10 yards
Michael Crabtree - False Start - 5 yards
Alex Smith - Intentional Grounding - 12 yards
Alex Smith - Intentional Grounding - 10 yards

Takeo Spikes - Illegal Contact - declined
Punt return unit - 12 men on the field - declined

There's a broad mix of penalties in there with some being incredibly stupid, some being apparent bad calls, and others just being something that happens from time to time in the NFL.

We've heard plenty about the second intentional grounding penalty against Alex Smith (the one for a 10 yard loss). Smith was throwing to his left and as he went to throw his receiver turned in when he apparently should have turned out. Using my mad lawyering skills I'll make a brief argument for why it might not have been as bad a mistake as Singletary and Smith made it out to be. Mind you this is just my interpretation.

The NFL's rules would seem to generally be meant to provide as little individual discretion for the refs as possible. Obviously there are judgment calls, but I would imagine the NFL would prefer strict liability type of calls. That basically means that there's no judgment issue involved. A perfect example is the rule about the corner not being allowed to touch the receiver after 5 yards (or however it's worded now). Technically it should just be, you touch the guy you get flagged.

With this particular play, it seemed obvious that there was a miscommunication between Smith and his receiver. And the wording "intentional" grounding would seem to preclude penalizing the team. But I'd like to think the NFL would have this in place to take away the judgment of the ref. I could be wrong on that but when you supposedly take away judgment calls, it evens the playing field because then personal biases and human error would seem to be less of an issue. Obviously that's not always the case, but I'm speculating on the league's philosophy.

Anyways, moving beyond that, special teams coach Kurt Schottenheimer might have some questions to answer for after yesterday's game. Special teams accounted for two holding calls, a false start, and 12 men on the field. Throw in the 9 men on the field goal attempt and it was not exactly a standout performance by the special teams unit. The 49ers got some decent returns from Ted Ginn Jr. but there was a lot of ugly along the way.

And as for Joe Staley's penalty for holding on Dixon's TD run that was called back? I would argue that Dixon probably gets tackled without that holding penalty. Maybe Dixon would have evaded the defender, but after reviewing my recording of the game, I think Dixon probably goes down there. It doesn't excuse the penalty, but just an explanation on the surrounding circumstances.

At the end of the day, the team is going to have clean up all the penalties. While they managed the win today, getting 143 penalty yards is not something a team can overcome every week. This comes down to team discipline, which is something the 49ers still seem to lack far too frequently. Although the # of men on the field penalties re probably the worst, Shawntae Spencer's defensive PI in the first quarter drove me absolutely crazy. If Spencer peeks back he can easily make a play on the ball. Instead, he RUNS INTO THE WIDE RECEIVER! He just barreled right into Louis Murphy. Just amazed me.

The 49ers have yet to put together a complete game, which given the win today is a good and a bad thing. Good to get a win in spite of hurting yourself repeatedly. Bad because this team proved through the first five weeks they won't get away with this every week. It's great to win the turnover battle, but they really need to clean up some of the mental aspects of the game if they want to make any kind of noise this season.