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Penalty Recap: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills

What is six penalties times nine penalties? 42 penalties

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a pretty clean game on Sunday. The biggest penalty came on a long completed pass that was called back for Tampa, but they were able to overcome it and score on the series any way.

Let’s dive in,.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Count and True Count

Count = number assessed. True count = number assessed + number declined/offset

By count, both teams had a fantastic day. The NFL average is just about seven penalties per team each game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were about two less and the Buffalo Bills come in at three under. True Count shakes out similarly. The league is averaging over eight flags thrown per team each game. The Buccaneers add one declined to their total but still come out more than two under the league rate. With no offset or declined, the Bills look even better, sitting at less than half the league rate of thrown flags.

Two fun facts this week for count. The Bills’ season average for True Count is 6.83, which is a great place to be, about 1.5 under the league rate. Tampa Bay and Buffalo were tied for worst in count just a couple seasons ago. Penalty rates are just volatile like that.

Yards and True Yards

Yards = Yards assessed. True yards = Yards assessed + Yards negated by penalty

For assessed yards, Buffalo shakes out in phenomenal shape. This is mostly a function of their low count, as they averaged nearly nine yards per penalty. Still, it’s no smokescreen, they had a good day. The Buccaneers are on the good side of league average but it’s awfully close. An average of 11 yards per penalty isn’t ideal by any means.

For any newcomers, the zero on the right side is due to the unavailability of league information on yards negated by penalty. The Bills didn’t wipe out ANY yards by penalty this week, which I suggested had been a problem to this point in the season. The Buccaneers wiped out 66 yards courtesy of yellow flags which is...less good.

Penalty Harm

Full method linked below, but this is a rating scale that judges a penalty using a formula that includes True Yards and opportunity changes (downs given or negated, score or turnover negated)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Stories: Sorry Bucs fans, the creamsicle look will always be my favorite which impacted the color scheme for your charts this week. Halloween being close at hand didn’t hurt either. If it makes you feel better, it’s technically pewter and bay orange.

Gerald McCoy had the only declined penalty on the day. The Bills (wisely) elected to take their 13-yard passing play rather than the procedural penalty on 3rd and 8. Delay of game is pretty standard and Jameis Winston only adds a boo-boo. Demar Dotson wiped out a 2-yard run on top of his 15 yards on the face mask penalty (15 yards + 2 yards = 1.7 Harm). This was oddly the first face mask penalty in a Bills game this year. Robert McClain’s unnecessary roughness call added 15 yards to a big gain by the Bills. It’s not that these calls didn’t hurt, but they’re all essentially what they look like when you watch them.

Devante Bond was called for holding on a punt return. It wiped out 11 yards, and backed the team up another ten for 2.1 Harm. Or in other words, a 21-yard swing.

The big one for the day though was courtesy of Donovan Smith. A holding call backed up the Bucs the usual ten yards, but it also negated a 53-yard completion from Winston to DeSean Jackson and the resulting first down (10 yards + 53 yards + 1 down = 7.3 Harm). The Buccaneers did overcome the penalty and scored a touchdown (thanks in part to a Bills penalty we’ll get to soon). However, it took them three minutes of time to overcome this penalty. While Harm doesn’t directly consider time, it is intended to reflect opportunity cost and having to make up 63 yards isn’t easy in the NFL.

Overall they had 13.1 Harm. Based on my usage of this metric, that’s a rough day. Around this range is where I would start saying penalties had an effect in the outcome of the game.

Buffalo Bills

The Stories: There are few tales to tell this week. Three of the four were nothing more than yards. Dion Dawkins, Deonte Thompson, and Marcell Dareus were hit with a total of 20 penalty yards with very little else to discuss. The illegal hands to the face came on 2nd and 10, and still allowed a chance to dig out. They didn’t, but a negative run by McCoy the next play didn’t help matters. False starts make things a little tougher, but the story rarely changes here. Same thing with encroachment. It made Tampa Bay’s touchdown the next play a little easier but that’s the full story.

I mentioned that the big Tampa Bay penalty was bailed out in part by the Bills. After their big play was negated, they were facing 2nd and 17 at their own end of the field. Tampa Bay did a great job the next snap, getting 14 of those yards. Leonard Johnson was flagged for a late hit. I think there’s a pretty good chance the Bucs convert a 3rd and 3, but thanks to the free first down the Bills D doesn’t get the chance for a stop. The extra 15 yards didn’t hurt their drive either.

At 4.5 Harm total for the day, it’s exactly where you want to be. Overall the Bills come in with their cleanest game of the season by any metric.


If the Bills are going to make the postseason this year, this pretty much has to be their brand of football. They cleaned up the mistakes in the running game and it paid off in a big way. It looks like they further evolved the scheme to better match the players as well, which was wise. While the defense had an off day, there were still plenty of things to like on that side of the ball as well.

A close and electrifying game could have swung the other way if not for a few plays. Looking at the rest of the schedule, this could become a common theme and it’d be great to keep as many bad plays off the Bills’ ledger as possible.

For the sake of reference:
Thanks, as always, to for the data
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