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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins were practically tripping over themselves getting penalties to hand the Buffalo Bills a win

The Buffalo Bills visited the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 with a slim shot at the playoffs. The game was a roller coaster of emotions for players and fans, with the eventual victory only being good enough for half the admission to the big dance. Yellow flags were a significant part of this game, with the Miami Dolphins doing everything in their power to hand the game over early.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Count and True Count

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

The last time the two teams met, the Miami Dolphins nearly had a perfectly average day. This time, it was the Bills coming in around league average. The Dolphins, as you can see, catapulted themselves far above the league norms. In fact, they were flagged six times in the first quarter alone. Their seventh flag came with 15:00 left on the clock in the second quarter. At that point in the game, the Bills had zero flags. The Bills jumped out to a 10-0 lead in no small part thanks to Miami’s blunders.

Jeff Triplette and his crew officiated this headache of a match up. Triplette’s group is the first we’ve seen in a long while that penalizes teams more than league average. Admittedly, though, it’s not by much, as it’s not quite half a flag more per team each game than normal. Triplette doesn’t show much bias between home and away, with three more flags on the season against the home team. Based on the data alone, it’s a good assumption that they simply called what they saw.

Yards and True Yards

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

The Bills were a bit under what you’d expect in assessed yards in comparison to their count. A slight skewing toward procedural penalties (false start and similar) would be the guess based on these stats.

For Miami, with such a high count, it’d be easy to assume the high yardage is nothing more than a reflection of how many penalties they were assessed. However, they’re about a yard and a half per penalty above the league rate. Not only did they beat themselves up with flags, but on average, each penalty was worse than “normal.”

Neither team wiped out a ton of yardage from negated plays. This is pretty odd based on the volume of penalties for both teams (24 total).

Penalty Harm

We’ll be deviating from the usual format here. The chart for the Dolphins was a mess. Two data sets across 18 points (all in teal and orange) would have been worse than a particularly rough tea cup ride with a full stomach. There’s little point recapping many of the penalties, also. If there’s one I missed, ask in the comments.

Miami Dolphins

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Stories: A lot of boo-boos here, believe it or not. Four penalties were declined or offset. In addition to those, 2 false starts, 1 offside, 1 neutral zone infraction, 1 encroachment, and an illegal motion caused small changes in field position. The story here, though, is sheer volume. Individually, these would all be minor blips in a game. Add them up and they disrupt any sense of rhythm and momentum.

The Dolphins were also hit with an illegal block and an offensive holding penalty. These added up to 2.1 harm, with one yard impacted in addition to the assessed.

More harmful were two face mask penalties by Reshad Jones and Cameron Wake. The Jones one was assessed at half the distance to the goal for 5 yards, or 0.5 harm. Wake’s was assessed at the Buffalo 40-yard line, and Triplette’s crew spotted the ball at the Miami 44-yard line. Do you see it? The refs accidentally gave the Bills an extra yard on the penalty. Neither play gave the Bills any free downs. However, the penalty on Wake negated a fumble recovery by the Dolphins, which puts it at 5.6 Harm (16 assessed yards + 4 downs it cost his team). This was the worst penalty by either team on the day.

On the lighter side of things, David Fales was called for intentional grounding and cost his team 13 yards. Since the loss of down counts for this penalty, his harm was 2.3. It also occurred on 4th down. When it was all said and done, the play was the equivalent of a negative-13-yard punt.

The worst looking penalty of the day was by Cordrea Tankersley. His defensive pass interference flag gave the Bills 31 free yards and 2 extra downs for 5.1 Harm. This penalty is a major reason the Dolphins yards-per-flag-assessed was higher than average.

The Dolphins ended the game with 22.6 Harm. That’s an incredibly rough day with flags, where it’s safe to assume it significantly impacted the outcome of the game.

Buffalo Bills

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Stories: The Bills had two penalties that were offset. A delay of game set them back five yards and nothing else. That penalty also occurred before a punt, making it difficult to assess any real impact.

Reid Ferguson was called for holding. This was on a touchback and was assessed yards only. This was his first flag of the season, so we’ll forgive him this time. Similarly harmful to that, Leonard Johnson was called for illegal use of hands and Deon Lacey was flagged for an illegal block. Both were yardage only.

Eric Wood got a little excited and was hit for being an ineligible receiver downfield on a screen pass Tyrod Taylor had to double clutch with defenders in his face, messing up the timing. He wiped out a 6-yard completion in addition to his five assessed yards for 1.1 harm.

The worst Bills penalty came from Matt Milano. His 5-yard defensive pass interference also came with a couple free downs for the Dolphins. That resulted in 2.5 harm.

On the day, the Bills had a cumulative 7.1 Harm. That translates to a good day in the office, where the flags didn’t hold you back.

Conclusions and the six flags adventure

With the recent emphasis on late hits and personal fouls, it was good to see Triplette and his crew take the skirmish toward the end of the game seriously. The conversation, though long, ultimately ended in meaningful repercussions based on the actions of the involved parties. With the respect out of the way, let’s poke some fun at everyone now.

When the dust cleared, six flags were thrown and officially assessed. The officials did the best they could, but made some fun errors along the way. Let’s dissect each flag and see what happened.

  1. Jarvis Landry rushes in after the play is over (and he scored a TD) and starts swinging. The official play-by-play forgets to say what he was flagged for (unnecessary roughness), but notes this is what led to his disqualification. This penalty is declared “offset.”
  2. Landry’s second penalty was for unsportsmanlike conduct as he was leaving the field for saying something less than polite to a ref. It should be noted that he still has his TD ball while leaving the field for what looks like the ultimate version of “I’m gonna take my ball and go home.” This was the only penalty assessed in this whole mess (15 yards between downs).
  3. Leonard Johnson inserted himself in the scuffle and earned his unnecessary roughness penalty.
  4. Kenyan Drake took the lead from Landry and went after the Bills. After he was taken to the ground by Ryan Davis and the fight continued, he was picked off the pile by Adolphus Washington. Drake then tossed Davis’s helmet, which might be what his flag was for. The play by play doesn’t note the reason for his disqualification. It could have been the fight (roughness) or the helmet toss (unsportsmanlike conduct), but he earned two flags for sure. They only bothered assessing one officially, though.
  5. Kenny Stills was also singled out in the scuffle. His roughness call was present, but offset, and he was allowed to keep playing.
  6. Ryan Groy was flagged for roughness, as well. Ryan Groy plays offense for the Bills. The defense was on the field. Ryan Groy had nothing to do with this play, though NFL history will tell you otherwise. It’s likely the flag was meant for Ryan Davis, who was on top of Drake and swinging. You might also remember that Richie Incognito was ejected for a minute until they discovered that 64 in white is a lot different than 32 in teal.

For a penalty nerd, this game was sheer delight. The ending scuffle will be entered into the penalty pantheon. Was Jeff Triplette laughing when he tried to make the call on this one? It sure looked like it.

The Dolphins entered offseason mode a week early and made no bones about gambling this game. They played aggressive and loose, which looks to have led to some mistakes. The Bills won a close one, but without the Dolphins spotting them about a field and a half courtesy of penalties, the Cincinnati Bengals’ comeback might not have mattered.