EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Buried in a mountain of yellow flags, the St. Louis Rams found themselves searching for answers Sunday after accumulating 11 accepted penalties for the second consecutive week.
"We have really got to stop the dumb penalties and that's all on players," Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "Coach (Jeff Fisher) can say it until he's blue in the face, but that's on players to internally say ‘Hey, we have got to be smarter because we are just killing ourselves.'"
The extent to which the Rams are killing themselves can be seen in the many different ways of looking at how their continued penalty problems set them at a disadvantage in games.
Through Sunday's games, the Rams sit third in the NFL in total accepted penalties with 98, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those penalties have cost the Rams 807 yards of field position, the sixth-highest number in the league.
Looking deeper into those numbers, the Rams have yielded a first down 38 times from a penalty. The defense has committed 45 infractions, most in the league. That also means all but 10 have resulted in an immediate first down for the offense.
"It is a big deal," defensive end Chris Long said. "We need to be more disciplined, myself included. I've had some penalties this year. We play emotionally right on the edge and some of them are obviously up for debate whether they're legitimate or not but that's not my argument to make. It is an issue. There's a lot of those I'm sure we can control."
For the record, it's not just the defense drawing flags, the offense has 29 (26th most in the NFL) and the special teams has 24, which is still the most in the league.
After posting a season-low four penalties in a 21-point win against Chicago, the Rams hit their season high of 11 against San Francisco and followed with an encore against the Cardinals on Sunday.
While opponents have been racking up penalties as well, it's no coincidence that the Rams' net of 79 more penalty yards than opponents the past two weeks has led to a scoreboard differential of minus-30.
Against Arizona, the problems were especially pronounced for a defense that has featured plenty of clutching and grabbing in the secondary but also the occasional emotional outburst that leads to a 15-yard penalty such as end Robert Quinn's mistake for throwing his helmet.
The defense committed seven penalties against the Cardinals.
"That's the most difficult thing to overcome," linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. "We came in here at halftime and said no more penalties in the second half or at least no more jawing and stuff, let's get back to playing ball. Defensively I thought we played better in the second half but it hurts when you do that. When you have that many penalties you are extending drives, you are keeping the offense on the field and they are scoring points."
It's worth noting that officiating in 2013 has been spotty at best. ESPN Insider Mike Sando discussed that notion at length in his Monday morning column.
In Sunday's game, there was an unnecessary roughness penalty against Eugene Sims on a dead ball that hardly anyone in the building knew was dead at the time of the penalty. Instead of allowing common sense to take over, the penalty was enforced.
Despite the calls that have gone against them, there are plenty of teams around the league making similar arguments today.
And it's not like the Rams were the picture of discipline in 2012, either. They had 130 penalties last year, most in the league. That trend continued in this preseason when assurances were made that the problem wouldn't persist because the infractions were being committed by player who weren't going to be on the roster when the season began.
"Things go fast and things move fast," Laurinaitis said. "Sure there are bad calls but there are bad calls every game. You have got to be able to overcome them as a team and I just don't think we were able to overcome our calls today. We really hurt ourselves and I don't think we were able to put the fire out and overcome them. That's the frustrating thing."