Bills' major area of regression in 2009: penalties

It's fairly easy to blame coaching for every little problem with a given NFL team, and just as easy to ignore giving credit where credit is due to a coach for team strengths. For Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron, credit is hard to come by these days - his Bills are currently 3-5, and as they're also on the heels of three straight 7-9 seasons, consternation surrounding the coach and his team is at an all-time high.

For all of Jauron's faults and virtues, one fact was continually glossed over throughout Jauron's first three years in Buffalo: his Bills teams were some of the most disciplined and technically sound in the game. Jauron got little credit for that. This season, thanks to the Bills taking the youth route at key positions - admittedly, decisions that Jauron had heavy influence in - the Bills are uncharacteristically mistake-prone. Here's a quick history of Buffalo's discipline (or lack thereof) under Jauron.

In 2006, Jauron's first season in Buffalo, the Bills committed 87 penalties on the season - between 5 and 6 per game. That total was tied for the eighth-lowest in the NFL.

In 2007, the Bills improved in the penalty department under Jauron, committing just 78 on the season (4.9 per game). That total was tied for the seventh-lowest total in the league, and the Bills shared that honor with Bill Belichick's 16-0 New England team.

In 2008, the Bills once again improved in this area, dropping their penalty total to 71 on the season - 4.4 per game, and good for the second-lowest total in the NFL (tied with New England again, and behind Atlanta).

In 2009, we've seen a complete regression, thanks mostly to the youth issues along the offensive line. Through just eight games, Buffalo has committed 59 penalties - the highest total in the league at 7.4 per game, or three more penalties per game than they averaged a year ago.

The lack of discipline has undoubtedly been a key factor in the Bills' struggles this season. (Buffalo's opponents have been helpful, committing 36 penalties to the Bills' 18 in their three wins.) Jauron's decisions to make wholesale, youthful changes along the offensive line and in other key areas have led to these issues, and it may ultimately cost him his job. To his credit, however, the penalty issue has gotten slightly better as the season has worn on; after committing 28 penalties in Weeks 1-3, the Bills have totaled 31 penalties in their last five games, a difference of 3 per game. In addition, in their last two games, the Bills have committed just 7 penalties while going 1-1.

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