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Penalty recap: Odd flags continue to haunt Buffalo Bills

The 2018 Bills favorite illegal formation penalty strikes again

The Buffalo Bills have been up and down with penalties all year (mostly up). Against the Indianapolis Colts, the Bills managed to significantly cut back from their dreadful penalty performance against the Texans the week before. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it sure as heck didn’t get them any closer to a win. Also, the Bills continue to be on the cutting edge of new and exciting formations.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Count

For Buffalo, the assessed count is a touch above the league average. The “true” count, or total flags thrown is a little under the league average. So we’ll be generous and say the Bills had a pretty average day in how many flags were tossed. The Colts fall cleanly below average for flags with only four assessed. A fifth was called but declined by Buffalo.

Penalty Yards

If you check the official stats you’ll see a different number for the Bills on assessed yards. My number is adjusted based on the illegal formation penalty that’s described thoroughly below. As a result of my adjustment, the Bills land a decent amount over league average. My adjustment was for 13 yards. As a result, you could make the argument the Bills were average here as well. The Bills did not negate any yardage via penalty which is good news. While the Colts did (13 yards negated), they still come out ahead of Buffalo.

Penalty Harm

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts had a few penalties that could have been drive killers but we clearly saw that it didn’t slow them down a whole lot. The declined offensive pass interference on Chester Rogers is naturally a boo-boo with zero harm. Kemoko Turay’s offside flag was yardage only for another boo-boo. Rogers’ illegal block above the waist was only nine yards difference from the outcome of the original play as it negated a one-yard loss. As a result it falls under 1.0 Harm as well.

Quenton Nelson’s offensive holding call wiped out three yards and Eric Ebron’s penalty wiped out eleven. The Colts finished with 4.8 Harm, which is a very good day. None of the Colts’ penalties were especially noteworthy, so instead of a clip of an Indianapolis flag, let’s check in on Tre’Davious White’s new penchant for being penalized.

Against the Texans, White was called for three flags. While none of the three were truly blown calls, it felt like White was being picked on a bit by the refs. In this case, it looks like he earned it.

Buffalo Bills

Of the seven penalties, four were boo-boos. Jordan Phillips’ offside, Kyle Williams’ neutral zone infraction and Jordan Mills’ false start were all five yards and that’s it. We’ll come back to the illegal formation in just a moment. We’ve already covered White’s DPI. Kelvin Benjamin didn’t start the fight, but his retaliation certainly could be considered unnecessary roughness. The chart contains an error on this, as it was actually assessed for 14 yards. EDIT: I fixed the charts. Let’s take a look at this formation issue to discuss the last two flags.

On the field, this was called on number 94 (no one on the Bills roster wears this number) and was assessed as one yard. I attributed it to Kyle Williams and called it good for 14. The NFL rules indicate “A Team B [The Bills are team B here] player, who is within one yard of the line of scrimmage, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads at the snap.” Williams has an inch or two aligned with the snapper’s shoulder pad and the ref is in perfect position to see it.

I adjusted the yardage as the Colts initially line up at the 15 for the extra point. This snap is an anomaly in the NFL in that it’s the only one where a team chooses where the line of scrimmage is. Penalties such as illegal formation result in a state called “no play” where the previous play is essentially erased. The play is redone but with the assessed penalty in consideration. What this means is that the “no play” status allowed the Colts to choose the line of scrimmage a second time but with the penalty in effect. Choice A is another kick at the nine-yard line, or go for two with half the distance to the goal (at the one yard line). They decided to go for two. To come up with the harm rating we then get 14 yards assessed - 1 point = 0.4 Harm. I elected to mitigate the harm by subtracting the point the penalty took off the board. If the Bills made a stop this would have been an instance of a “good” penalty.

Another anomaly with the extra point/two point conversion is that they exist out of official time. Put another way, it’s not counted as a true down. The refs put this concept to maximum use when Hughes was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the illegal formation. When a penalty occurs between downs, it can be assessed on the next play. The next “play” was the two point conversion. As this isn’t a true down they carried it over to the kickoff which is a true play.

Despite all the wacky and obscure rules the Bills put to the test in this game, they finished with only 6.2 Harm. It’s not that the Bills didn’t have self inflicted wounds against Indianapolis. They just came from aspects of the game other than penalties.