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Ed Hochuli effect: recapping the penalties from Buffalo Bills vs. Oakland Raiders

The Bills were hammered by penalties on Sunday.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the best way to follow up a nice, clean game with zero costly penalties? Why, PENALTY-PALOOZA of course! Repeat after me: “Turnover Differential.” Keep that positive thought in the back of your mind. Now, the Oakland Raiders visited New Era Field to take on the Buffalo Bills. And things got real ugly...and real yellow!

Standard and Advanced Metrics

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

We’re off to a bad start right away this week with over four assessed penalties more than league average. Yikes. It’s a little better when accounting for the league rate of thrown flags, but still quite bad. Oakland comes in a little under no matter which measure you prefer. Their clean-ish game looks even better in light of our gigantic blue bar.

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

As a quick reminder, the left hand columns represent ONLY the yards assessed by the referees. Oakland falls on the good side of average here. We...don’t. Both are about what I’d expect based on the counts, which suggests that Buffalo’s high numbers are just the result of a bunch of tiny, boo-boo type penalties.

League data on negated yards isn’t available so it’s Buffalo and Oakland head-to-head here. Both negated heaps of yards, with Oakland’s negated yards actually surpassing their assessed. This is a very solid indicator that someone messed up on a big play or two.

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)

Oakland Raiders

The Stories: Mostly boo-boos and penalties with nothing more than assessed yards for the Raiders. Shilique Calhoun had two penalties; offensive holding and offside. Both amounted to nothing more than the yards assessed by the refs. The important question is how did a LINEBACKER get called for offensive holding? Both penalties were courtesy of special teams play. Fun fact, holding during special teams is logged as the “offensive” type. This will be a theme today.

Jalen Richard also had an offensive holding call. His also occurred on special teams and was declined. Why declined though? Isn’t that free yards on special teams? Yeah, but the Bills recovered a fumble on the play and they felt that was the better outcome.

Bruce Irvin was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and hit with 15 yards. Since that occurred after a touchdown play by the Bills it was assessed on the kickoff. Hauschka took the easy touchback here with the Bills comfortably in the lead.

Kelechi Osemele wiped out 1 yard in addition to the 10 on a holding call. This is about as innocuous as you can get with holding. Even more innocuous was NaVorro Bowman and the encroachment penalty. Assessed as a half-yard, you could argue that it made Tyrod Taylor’s stretching touchdown a bit easier. But let’s face it, the Raiders were already in a really bad spot and the “almost no harm” rating here (0.05) is pretty accurate to the situation.

The big one here (and worst of the day by either team) was courtesy of Shalom Luani. This is a ten-yard penalty usually. However, this time it wiped out 56 yards of a 65-yard return. Instead of 1st and 10 at the Buffalo 15, it was 1st and 10 at the Oakland 19. And this was in the middle of the second quarter when the game was still close. They were able to move the ball 17 yards before punting. A sure-fire field goal opportunity and maybe more turned into another wasted drive.

Their total Harm comes in at 10.75. That’s a mostly bad overall day but not terrible. This is largely off the back of a low count and boo-boos, because that one was a game changer.

Buffalo Bills

The Stories: Yep...they had so many penalties it started to affect chart formatting. I could have fixed it, but I felt it was an accurate representation of the jumbled mess of a game the Bills played in this regard. Buckle up, this will be a long ride this week...

For non-stories we have; false start by Jordan Mills, delay of game via Stephen Hauschka, and leverage courtesy of Jerel Worthy. The leverage was assessed on the kickoff, and the Raiders also elected to use it for a free touchback.

Adolphus Washington had offensive holding? Here’s that theme again, but with a twist. Trae Elston had intercepted Derek Carr. Interception returns are, for penalties anyway, treated like a punt return. So special teams rules apply and Washington gets hit with the Offensive (10-yard) variant of holding because it was after the interception. What’s lucky here is that it’s a spot foul and it came right as Elston was being tackled and didn’t wipe out any of his return on top of the assessed yards.

The more conventional offensive holding reared its ugly head again this week. Jordan Mills’ wiped out a 5-yard run by Taylor that happened to earned the team a first down (10 assessed yards + 5 negated yards + 2 downs = 3.5 Harm). Richie Incognito got in on the fun and wiped out a 5-yard McCoy run (10 yards + 5 yards + 1 down on this one). Jordan Matthews didn’t want the linemen to hog all the yellow flags and he wiped out an 8-yard gain. The 2017 scourge of offensive holding negating positive running plays continues. Luckily, the Bills had plenty of other really good runs to make us forget about these ones.

Lorenzo Alexander was called for encroachment. In his case, the five yards resulted in a first down. This was at the end of the game so the two free opportunities he gave the Raiders didn’t hurt as bad, but this wasn’t a small penalty by any means.

Remember the big Raiders penalty? I said they managed to get 17 yards before punting. Well, if it weren’t for Leonard Johnson it would have only been THREE yards. Carr, on 3rd and 7, tossed an incomplete pass. Johnson gave them a free set of downs and five yards. I point this out because the defense had a good game, even when they shot themselves in the foot.

Let’s talk offensive pass interference. Deonte Thompson was called for one that wiped out a five-yard pickup. And there was also one you might remember where Jordan Matthews telekineticly shoved a defender. When will our receivers learn to stop using their X-Men-like powers during games? Tsk tsk. While the penalty might have been imaginary, the harm wasn’t. It wiped out two downs and 27 yards in addition to the 10 yards assessed. At 5.7 Harm, if this game turned out differently, we’d have a big reason to be mad.

How did the Bills do overall? Really bad. Like reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaally bad. At 23.5 Harm, it’s the worst game of the season and would still be second-worst even if you didn’t include the phantom OPI call. Yuck. Using this stat, I would look at this number and unabashedly say penalties had a major impact on a team.


I like to look for silver linings and this game certainly has one. There’s no way around it, the Bills had an awful day with yellow laundry. Despite giving the Raiders four free tries and negating five of their own, the Bills still managed to hold a potent offense down all game. An absurd amount of forced turnovers let the Bills overcome their self-inflicted wounds and run up a healthy score.

Forget the scoreboard for a second and understand that the Bills made things very difficult for themselves this game. Putting it into the context of the scoreboard, the win is quite a bit more impressive.

For the sake of reference:

Thanks, as always, to for the data

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