The Buffalo Bills lost a close game to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. With neither team exactly pulling ahead of the other at any point, it was a contest of inches. We ask the age old question, “did an inch or two of penalties impact the outcome of the game?”
Standard and Advanced Metrics
Count and True Count
Count = number assessed. True count = number assessed + number declined/offset
If you’re looking at traditional stats, this is a straightforward week. Both teams were hit with five flags and neither team saw a penalty declined or offset. Both teams fell under the league average and by raw count this looks like a good day.
John Hussey and his crew officiated this contest. Hussey is averaging about 0.8 flags per game less than league average. That should translate to less than half a flag per team on average. Not quite enough to account for where the teams landed, but it’s a start. Hussey has trended slightly toward favoring the home team (8 fewer penalties on the year) which likely didn’t factor into the results.
Yards and True Yards
Yards = Yards assessed. True yards = Yards assessed + Yards negated by penalty
Here we start to see some separation. For assessed yards, the Bills were hit with close to league average which isn’t good if your count is clearly under league average. The Jaguars managed to keep their yardage totals low, which often means procedural penalties.
The right side looks at yards negated by penalty in addition to assessed yards. The Jaguars did not negate a single yard due to penalty. The Bills on the other hand...well just look at the chart. If you were looking at these data points it’s very clear who had the worse day. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Bills fans know we still need to look at a few other factors before we call it.
The Stories: Looking at the low yardage total above, the penalty types seem quite odd. Three penalties generally carry 5 yarders, one is 15 standard and defensive pass interference is only limited by the length of the field. Since it’s our last recap of the year, and there’s not too many, let’s just examine them all.
Brandon Linder’s false start is exactly the norm. It came on 2nd and 7 which isn’t ideal by any means, but was solely the assessed 5 yards for 0.5 Harm.
Yannick Ngakoue was called for unnecessary roughness on a play I bet everyone remembers. It’s odd to rate a roughness call as the second least problematic of the day, but recall that Tyrod Taylor had already earned the first down, which means it was strictly the assessed yards for this one at 1.5 harm.
Defensive holding by A.J. Bouye is up next. While it only earned a 5-yard penalty, it came on an incomplete pass on 3rd and 6. It gave the Bills a fresh set of downs and earned 2.5 Harm (5 yards + 2 downs).
Myles Jack was hit with defensive pass interference. It was only 7 yards but also gave the Bills a fresh set of downs on what should have been a third down stop. This was the play where Tony Romo argued that the hold prevented a touchdown from LeSean McCoy. The harm rating barely edges out Bouye’s call at 2.7.
Telvin Smith had the worst Jags penalty of the day at 3.2 Harm. The Bills had used a timeout on 4th and 1 to set up for the field goal and Smith jumped. The 3 free downs were far worse than the assessed 2 yards of penalty. This set the Bills up with a fantastic opportunity to score a TD and the Jaguars likely had a large sigh of relief on the next play.
The Jaguars ended the day with 10.4 Harm. This translates to a day where penalties likely played a small part in the outcome.
The Stories: No penalties fell under 1.0 Harm rating this week, which isn’t usually a great start to thing. Just like we did with the Jags, let’s examine them all, but let’s go backwards for the hell of it.
Earlier in the year, I did a look at JUST offensive holding for the Bills. I noted how bad this specific penalty was hampering the offense, and the run game in particular. What better way to end the season than Deonte Thompson hampering the run game in a big way with a holding call. LeSean McCoy had just exploded for 39 yards to put the Bills at the Jacksonville 35. The flag was spot of the foul, with McCoy only getting credited for 16 yards of his run. The 10 yards on the penalty took 10 more away. This play effectively took away 33 yards of offense in the 4th quarter of a one-score game. The Bills ended up punting, when the results of that play would have allowed them to minimally head into 4 down territory. 10 yards assessed + 23 yards negated = 3.3 Harm.
Breon Borders had his first snaps of the year and made an impact for many of the wrong reasons, with two special teams penalties. The face mask was assessed at half the distance to the goal(ish) for 12 yards or 1.2 Harm. His illegal block was assessed for the usual 10 yards and negated 15 for 2.5 Harm. The Bills started at their own 14 rather than the 39.
Neither of Buffalo’s QBs ended the game well. For Nathan Peterman, his intentional grounding penalty set the team back 10 yards and 1 down for 2.0 Harm. It also caused a 10-second run off. It cost the Bills in opportunity and set them back almost to midfield trying to score a last-second TD to tie the game.
Kelvin Benjamin and his offensive pass interference penalty might have rated the lowest, but demonstrates the need for context. Technically it was yardage only (10 yards or 1.0 Harm). This was the play right after Buffalo was gifted three more shots at the end zone courtesy of Telvin Smith. With 11 yards to go instead of 1, the Bills couldn’t get it done. Potentially, the biggest mistake of the game right here.
The Bills slightly edge out the Jags with an even 10 Harm overall.
Both teams were pretty even when looking at several different measures and it’s hard to say one team really was ahead of the other. Unfortunately for Bills fans, it’s easy to lament the fact that Jacksonville extended the drive for Buffalo three separate times, with only a FG to show for it in the end. The Bills were one play away all game and they just couldn’t find it.
Ultimately, it was a fun ride and a hell of a week leading up Buffalo’s first appearance in the playoffs in a couple years. We shouldn’t let the results dampen all of the positive vibes Bills fans shared after an emotional New Year’s Eve gave us an extra week of football. And don’t worry, this might be the last recap but there’s plenty more for us penalty nerds to look at during the offseason.