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Penalties a problem for Buffalo Bills against New York Jets, but didn’t cost them the game

Penalties were a constant irritation on Thursday night, but weren’t a major factor in the Bills pooping the bed

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like me, you stayed up to watch the third annual Christmas Bowl between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets last Thursday. As is my wont, I ask the weekly question of how badly did penalties affect the outcome.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

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

Hey look at that! The second week in a row with 11 penalties assessed. The good news is that the Jets were right behind us there, and neither team stacks up well to the league rate.

Matters only get worse when looking at the number thrown, with both teams coming in at the luckiest of all numbers. This could be construed as foreshadowing by the way.

Are you ready for the most fun fact of all? Last year’s Bills (y’know, when Rex had them all undisciplined) averaged 7.9 flags thrown per game. With this game in the books, the 2017 Bills now sit at 8.1 penalties thrown per game! That’s fun, right?

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

Some good news for the Jets here. Despite a very high penalty count, their assessed yards are within a stone’s throw of normal. The Bills’ high assessed yardage is a matter of high count, but still,

Things even out when you consider the yards negated by penalty (data not available league wide). The Bills only wiped out 8 yards of play, which is pretty good considering where this year has taken them so far. The Jets negated nearly as much yardage as they were assessed.

Penalty Harm

New York Jets

The Stories: Look, I’ll level with everyone. With 26 penalties between the two teams, it’d be a tough slog to read if I recapped every one. If there’s one you want a deep dive into that I forget, ask in the comments.

It took eight games for the Bills to see an illegal contact penalty and this week there were three, all from the Jets. Buster Skrine had two of them. Which brings me to a chart oddity. I include the count column because I think it shows a nice contrast between the idea of “one penalty” when up against a harm concept. Skrine is our first player to make good use of this feature by having more than one penalty of the same type (offside). He enjoyed the idea so much he did it again (illegal contact). Skrine was good for four penalties on the day. Both his offside penalties were declined (on back-to-back plays no less). Also odd, both his illegal contact calls came on second down.

More significantly, Marcus Maye was called for Defensive Holding which negated a 9-yard sack of Tyrod Taylor and gave the Bills two free downs. Darryl Roberts was flagged for defensive pass interference of 16 yards and one free down.

The Jets had two very costly penalties. The first by Austin Seferian-Jenkins negated a 26-yard play and two downs for a total of 5.6 Harm (10 yards assessed + 26 Yards negated + 2 downs negated).

Wanna feel more depressed about the game? You may recall that Matt Forte negated a touchdown with his offensive pass interference call. The Jets settled for a field goal making this a huge deal in the world of penalties. The 8.4 Harm is about as bad as it gets on my scale.

The Jets total comes in at 24.5 Harm for the game. This translates to a day where you hurt yourself quite badly with penalties. A high overall count and several highly damaging penalties support this result.

Buffalo Bills

The Stories: Note that the Bills’ chart only scales up to 5 for Harm. The Jets’ chart went up to nine. This results from the Bills avoiding penalties that cost them downs or yards for the most part. Tre’Davious White, Jerry Hughes, and Shaq Lawson all seem to stand out a bit. All three of those were solely the 15 yards on the penalty. No extra downs, etc.

Cedric Thornton had a real rough one. His facemask penalty cost them 15 yards. It also wiped out a sack of 9 yards and gave the Jets one free down for 3.4 Harm.

Here’s today’s silver lining, which only applies to myself and penalty data nerds who continue to encourage this nonsense I call a weekly article: courtesy of Joe Webb, the Harm stat had an unprecedented scenario to consider. On Steven Hauschka’s first onside kick attempt, Webb was called for being offside. This was a 5-yard penalty, but that felt like it cheated the real harm. After deliberation I came up with an onside kick rule for penalty harm assessment. Feel free to rip into it in the comments.

If the kicking team does NOT recover the ball OR they recover the ball and the penalty occurs after the recovery, the Harm will be assessed using normal methods. If the kick is recovered by the kicking team AND the penalty negates this, it will be assessed as a negated turnover in addition to the assessed yards.

Negated turnovers are assessed as 4.0 units of harm, and Webb’s penalty was 5 yards, or 4.5 Harm.

The Bills 15.7 Harm on the day is representative of a bad day where you’ve dug a nice hole to climb out of.


I keep harping on it, but despite gains in many other aspects of coaching and team management, Sean McDermott’s team isn’t looking better than Rex’s when it comes to penalties.

On Thursday, a terrible penalty performance was sadly only a portion of the story as they found various other ways to shoot themselves in the foot. It could easily be argued that the Jets had a worse night when it comes to the yellow flags and still managed to, as they say, “stomp a mudhole.”

If we can’t have a victory or a real silver lining, let’s end on another oddity. League wide, offensive penalties for the year are a little under half of the total flags thrown. The Bills and Jets thumbed their nose at this trend and had 14 of their 26 flags come from the defense.

For the sake of reference:

Thanks, as always, to for the data

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