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Penalties continue to be problematic for Buffalo Bills against New Orleans Saints

The McDermott era Bills are moving in the wrong direction when it comes to penalties

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills fans around the globe are searching for answers after the second beatdown in a row, this time courtesy of the New Orleans Saints. Clearly, Buffalo’s sub-par offensive and defensive efforts couldn’t be to blame. Maybe it was the penalties.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

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

This week’s charts start off with a pretty good schematic for a set of stairs. The Bills fall on the wrong side of the assessed count by about one penalty, which isn’t too terrible. The Saints though were nearly three penalties under the league rate of assessed.

For flags thrown, the Saints come in pretty normal, having two that didn’t count against them (one offsetting, one declined). The Bills were a little higher than normal with this as well having one offsetting and two declined penalties for a total of 11 thrown flags. They now sit at 8.44 flags thrown a game, which falls on the wrong side of average.

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

For assessed yards (left-hand set of columns), the Saints show up exactly as you’d expect. Their low count results in a low yardage total. The Bills are a bit of a surprise here. Despite an above average count, they come in slightly under the average yardage. This suggests some weighting toward procedural penalties.

Moving to the right hand column, there’s no league-wide data to which we can compare. The Saints negated 31 yards via penalty (21 on offense and 10 on special teams).

If you can’t be good, at least you can be interesting, right? The Bills had negative-2 yards “negated” due to penalty on offense, and that was it for the day. You’re reading that right. This week, rather than exacerbating the assessed yards, the Bills’ negated yards gave them a net GAIN. If there was ever a good time in this series for an exasperated “I can’t even,” today would be the day.

Penalty Harm

New Orleans Saints

The Stories: A pretty high number of the Saints’ penalties were significant, but first the less damaging ones. Alex Okafor and the roughing the passer penalty was offset. This results in a “no play” situation where it’s nothing more than a replay. This will be the most controversial story in a minute, but from the question of how it shifted things, the answer is that it didn’t. Similarly, Andrus Peat was caught with offensive holding that was declined. One of the Bills’ better plays of the day resulted in a loss of a yard, and the Bills elected to keep that.

De’Vante Harris was called for unnecessary roughness that was assessed as 6 yards (half the distance to the goal on a punt). It also wiped out 10 yards of return for 1.6 Harm.

Rafael Bush also was flagged for unnecessary roughness on defense. His penalty gave the Bills one free down in addition to the 15 yards.

Adding to the 10 yards assessed, Michael Hoomanawanui negated a first down (from second) and 15 yards with an offensive pass interference call. 10 yards + 15 yards + 1 down = 3.5 Harm.

Ted Ginn was also hit with offensive pass interference. His negated six yards and two downs narrowly edge out the last flag with 3.6 Harm.

The Saints’ cumulative harm landed at 11.2. This usually equates to a day where you can point toward a small effect of penalties on the game. For a game where only four were assessed, this is quite high.

Buffalo Bills

The Stories: Another chart with a ton of stuff crammed in. Luckily, many of these are squarely in the realm of “boo-boo.” I’ll only discuss four calls today, but if there’s something you’re interested in that I missed, let me know in the comments.

Preston Brown was hit with defensive pass interference for one whole yard (Saints were at the 2). It had been second down, and he changed it to first. One more crack at the end zone for the other team is never good.

Ramon Humber was called for two penalties on the day. His neutral zone penalty gave up two downs in addition to the five yards. It was not the best day to spot the Saints a fresh set of downs.

Lorenzo Alexander also had two calls go against him. The facemask gave up the usual 15 yards, as well as two free downs. The Harm lands at 3.5 for this penalty.

I hinted that offsetting penalties can be somewhat controversial with rating, as they result in a clean replay. On the Bills’ side of the offset penalties, Deonte Thompson was called for offensive holding. The play had resulted in a 25 yard gain by Charles Clay. If it had counted, it would have improved Taylor’s passing output by 44%. We still gave it a 0 Harm rating because Buffalo didn’t lose yards on it.

On the day, the Bills earned a total of 10.4 Harm. That’s not a terrible day by any means and is surprising if you consider their high count.


This is the week to keep piling on the team, I suppose. Despite roughly twice the penalties, the Bills actually hurt themselves LESS than the Saints did when factoring in lost yardage and opportunities.

The Saints had two offensive pass interference calls that set them up with terrible down and distances after negating positive plays. Usually, these would be drive killers. Hoomanawanui’s call resulted in a 2nd and 20 outside of field goal range. This was the first drive of the 3rd quarter before the carnage really got going. Ted Ginn’s set them up with 3rd and 13 and likely out of field goal range as well. That call was in the second quarter. Both drives resulted in touchdowns for the Saints.

There’s no beating around the bush here. The Saints were practically tripping over themselves to give the Bills chances to claw back into the game, and Buffalo just couldn’t do it.

For the sake of reference:

Thanks, as always, to for the data

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