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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills test lenient officiating crew against L.A. Chargers

Not even lenient officiating can completely negate the 2017 Bills’ penalty tendencies

NFL: Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills visited sunny L.A. to take on the Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday. I’m pretty confident nothing of note really took place. So then, with literally nothing else to talk about regarding this game, I suggest we examine penalties.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Count and True Count

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


Let’s not waste a lot of time on the Chargers here and just concede that they had a good day regarding penalties.

The Bills come in under the league averages for both count and true count, which is an improvement from their more recent trends. With nothing to examine regarding the opponent this week, I decided to shift gears a bit. The game was officiated by John Parry and his crew. In 2017, they’ve assessed 6.11 penalties per team each game (left hand columns). While Buffalo is still a little under this rate, this information will be critical when I circle back around to something later. Specifically, John Parry’s crew trends toward being a lenient group.

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

For only one penalty, the Chargers’ yardage is actually pretty high. Still though, they had a great day.

The Bills assessed yards are about 10 yards under the league average with assessed. John Parry’s crew has assessed 9.12 yards less than league average this year. That means in both count and yardage, while Buffalo performed better than league average they were nearly exactly “Parry average.”

For True Yards (right side columns), Buffalo negated 14 yards. The Chargers stuck to assessed yards only. Advantage Chargers.

Penalty Harm

Los Angeles Chargers

The Stories: So I have this whole deal set up in an spreadsheet where all I have to do is a little data entry and color swapping. Once that’s done, the charts populate automatically along with my custom stats. The above is what happens when you create a chart designed to accommodate about 6-8 times more data than what the Chargers gave you. “Oh, you want a chart that’s this big? Gonna have to fill that space up somehow.”

I’ll start with Jahleel Addae’s Defensive Pass Interference penalty and then do my best to sort through all the other data. On the very first play of the 4th quarter, the Bills were 2nd and 3rd at the LA 18-yard line. An incomplete pass from Tyrod Taylor to Charles Clay would give them one less play to mount their comeback attempt. Addae’s penalty was called for 13 yards and gave Buffalo one free down for a rating of 2.3 Harm (this will also be the Chargers’ total harm while we’re at it). Would the Bills take advantage of this opportunity? Stay tuned!

Buffalo Bills

The Stories: Finally, enough data to make the chart look rational. A good many boo-boos in this game thankfully. Andre Holmes and his holding call was on a kickoff and yardage only (8 yards). The false start on Jordan Mills and offside on Jerry Hughes were procedural only (5 yards). The Chargers declined the illegal use of hands by Dion Dawkins since the pick-6 seemed like the better outcome.

Eric Wood was called for holding and negated a five-yard Taylor scramble. Richie Incognito had one that was a little worse as it wiped out a LeSean McCoy 7-yard run and first down (from second).

Back to the narrative! Addae had set up the Bills up at the LA 5-yard line with his pass interference. The Bills used two plays to advance to the 2. Taylor throws to Charles Clay and TOUCHDOWN! That’s wiped out by Clay’s offensive pass interference. A total of 8.2 Harm is the result of 10 assessed yards + 2 negated yards + 7 negated points. I highlight this play due to the high harm, but also as it was the first of three plays in a row where Taylor made good decisions that would have been touchdowns in a normal world. In the upside-down, topsy-turvy world of the Bills only the last one counted.

The Bills ended the day with 14.2 Harm which is pretty bad.


I gave some evidence up above that John Parry’s crew leans toward the lenient side of flag tossing overall. On Sunday, further evidence suggests they were trying to let the two teams play without interruption.

Exhibit A is the count against the Chargers. While it’s safe to assume they did indeed play a clean game, they’re trending at just under seven assessed penalties per game. They’ve been as low as four two times this year.

Exhibit B come from something a little unusual I noticed. Of the eight penalties called on the day only two were in the first half. And both of those were in the first quarter. That leaves six flags for the second half when the Bills were desperately clawing back.

A case could be made that they held back when penalties would have only been piling on the Bills.

For the sake of reference:

Thanks, as always, to for the data

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