OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There were times over the years when the Baltimore Ravens felt they were battling the referees in addition to the team on the other sidelines.
That certainly hasn't been the case in the first two weeks of the regular season. For a team that averaged seven penalties per game last season, the Ravens are currently tied for the fewest penalties in the NFL with a total of seven.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes reducing flags comes down to mental discipline.
"We know that other teams are going to get away with stuff that we’re not going to understand," Harbaugh said. "There’s going to be holding and illegal contact and offensive pass interference that we’re not going to understand why it didn’t get called, maybe, in terms of who we’re playing against. But we can’t concern ourselves with that. We need to concern ourselves with what we’re doing. If we play within the rules, if we play good, clean football, then we’re not going to get called, and we want to be that kind of a team."
In the previous six seasons under Harbaugh, the Ravens have committed 633 penalties, which was the seventh-most in the league over that span. This year, the Ravens are tied with the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the fewest flags in the NFL.
Here are the seven penalties called on the Ravens this year:
Wide receiver Kamar Aiken unnecessary roughness on kickoff return
Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe holding
Linebacker Courtney Upshaw roughing the passer
Center Jeremy Zuttah holding
Tight end Dennis Pitta false start
Tight end Owen Daniels false start
While Harbaugh doesn't want his players to get caught up in questioning the officials, it doesn't mean he has to do so. Thursday night's penalty on Upshaw, who was flagged for hitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, had Harbaugh scratching his head. Harbaugh said he spoke with NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino about the penalty.
"The way the rules are written is one thing; what’s possible to accomplish is another thing," Harbaugh said Monday. "There’s no way to coach Courtney out of that. He’s coming full speed, he’s getting down into the strike zone, and he’s keeping his eyes up. He can’t lift his head any higher than that. He also can’t get his head off to the side because Ben’s moving, and also the fact that if he gets his head off to the side, he has a real good chance of missing the tackle or hurting himself by dropping his head. We’re never going to put our player in position to coach him to drop his head."
In addition to the few penalties, the Ravens have turned the ball over twice. The theme has been not hurting themselves.
"We’re not making a lot of mistakes," Harbaugh said. "We’re not committing a lot of penalties. We are playing with very good discipline. We’re playing with good technique, overall. But we still should just be scratching the surface in what we are trying to accomplish. We need to get a lot better, and we need to do it quickly in order to be the kind of team we want to be."