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Penalty summary: bye week

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A little over half the season in, how are the Bills doing on penalties?

The bye week provides us with a great chance to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. While weekly penalty recaps capture lost opportunities, a broader look can give some interesting insight into the team as a whole. Let’s see how year two of the Sean McDermott era is progressing through a lens of yellow.


Buffalo Bills vs. Opponents

Penalty counts

Despite some clunkers like the game against the Chicago Bears, the Bills aren’t doing too terribly when it comes to penalty counts. For assessed penalties, the Bills come in just about one penalty per game higher than league average. For flags thrown or “true count” they’re even closer to league average at less than half a flag more than the NFL.

The bad news is that the Bills’ opponents have trended a tick below average for both assessed and thrown flags. It’s not so significant as to raise any concerns of biased refs, but it does mean the Bills have put themselves at a relative disadvantage overall.

Penalty Yards

Penalty yards give us our first glimpse into the concept of penalty severity. The Bills’ opponents have been assessed penalty yards consistently with their count. The Bills’ assessed yards are a little higher than the counts would suggest, meaning they trend a little toward more serious penalties. While the Bills are the sixth-worst team in the league for count, they’re the third-worst in yardage.

The columns on the right add yards negated by penalty. The Bills wipe out just over 18 yards per game via penalty. Their opponents fall in at not quite twelve. It’s not a drastic difference, but the Bills, again, aren’t doing themselves any favors.

If you’re curious, the Buffalo Bills average 11.6 Harm per game. Their opponents are averaging 9.9 Harm.

Bills vs. Themselves

Penalty type

A few of these seem somewhat high but are fairly typical. Defensive holding (“DH”) and defensive pass interference (“DPI”) in particular aren’t that bad. Anything three or below is a little harder to trend, so we’ll avoid those except for some specific notes below.

With 15 false starts, the Bills are tied for fifth-most in the league. Yuck. The Bills’ illegal formation woes have more company than earlier in the year with Chicago having five, the Baltimore Ravens with four, and a handful of teams at three. The Bills still lead the league, unfortunately. The league average is 1.6 illegal formation flags this year. Add in an illegal shift to this and the Bills have a major problem on offense when it comes to everyone understanding the play.

After the snap isn’t a ton better. There are a few teams with more holding calls than the Bills but they’re still near the top. Note that in the chart, special teams holding calls are also logged under “OH” as the official logs refer to them as the same. Of those, 17 were from the offense.

Unnecessary roughness (“UR”) flags are also a problem with the Bills close to the top in these as well. One is courtesy of the defense (Tre’Davious White) and two are from special teams (Logan Thomas). The offense has the lion’s share of these as well, with four.

Player Notes

What good would a summary of penalties be without some finger-pointing? There’s been a few surprising trends already this year.

  • Deon Lacey has earned three flags this year which doesn’t sound so bad. Lacey’s been almost exclusively in on special teams. That phase of the game has only 13 penalties so far this season.
  • Logan Thomas also has three special teams penalties this year and has added one on offense to boot.
  • Kelvin Benjamin won’t be making any new fans with his high penalty rate. He’s had four flags thrown, which is tied for second-worst at the receiver position.
  • Tre’Davious White has had six penalties come his way. Four have been defensive holding. This puts him tied for eighth-worst in the league. Corners are generally widely penalized though, and there’s a large group within striking distance of White.
  • Phillip Gaines was recently cut after a 90-yard, two-penalty performance against the Bears. With the Bills, he had three penalties (all DPI) for 131 yards. This is approximately 1/5 of the assessed penalty yards for the year.
  • With four penalties, Jerry Hughes is tied for second most in the league for defensive ends. There’s a big cluster in the 3-5 range so Hughes is hardly alone at the top. He’s had one unsportsmanlike conduct call, with the other three being neutral zone or offside infractions.
  • Vladimir Ducasse, John Miller and Dion Dawkins are the worst offenders on the offensive line (5, 6 and 7 flags respectively). Linemen are often penalized at a high rate, but these three have contributed to the false start and holding woes this year. Dawkins goes a step further, though, with three unnecessary roughness penalties.