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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears both bring the laundry

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It’s a good day for penalty nerds. There’s a lot to cover from this game.

The Buffalo Bills hosted the Chicago Bears and the less said about the score the better. Let’s talk about penalties which should be far less depressing (hint: nope). Let’s shortchange the intro again this week, as both teams raced to collect flags like they were Shopkins.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty count

The league averages for both assessed and true counts ticked slightly up this week. This game is the biggest reason why. Only one other game (Chargers vs. Seahawks) hit or broke the 20 mark. I’ll let the charts speak for themselves. Both teams were bad. The only solace for Bills fans is that the Bears had a worse day using this metric.

Penalty yards

When it comes to yards though, the Bills run away with it. When you nearly triple the league average in something, you’d better hope it’s a positive stat. The Bills did this instead. Between the two teams they nearly went the distance of the field three times (292 yards).

Want me to make it worse? You got it. The Bills had 264 yards of offense. That means they had a net movement of 101 yards. The Bears were even worse with 61 yards net (190 yards offense minus 129 assessed penalty yards). And the Bears won. In a blowout.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

For this week, I’m gonna let everyone just absorb data and avoid any talk of the boo-boos. In general the Bills penalties were pretty cut and dry anyway. I’m confident I’ll forget something though so definitely take advantage of the comments section.

Jordan Mills’ holding call wiped out a 22-yard run from Chris Ivory which would have been a first down. At least that’s what was credited. Below you can see where Ivory was stopped and it’s definitely short of the 22 yards needed for the first. If you’re into the math, the penalty was half the distance to the goal for six yards. For the harm that’s 6 yards assessed + 22 yards negated + 2 downs negated = 4.8 Harm. If the refs hadn’t blown the spot it would be 6 assessed yards + 21 yards negated = 2.7 Harm. Which is still bad.

Phillip Gaines had the worst day on the team with 11.0 Harm. This was divided between two defensive pass interference calls. The first gave up 47 yards. The second gave up 43 yards and two downs. Let’s look at that second one.

It’s arguably ticky-tack, but that left arm is going places it shouldn’ta oughta be. The objective harm is 6.3 (43 yards + 2 downs). The real harm is zilch. The game was over long before this fourth quarter flag.

If you’re really dying to know, the cumulative harm for the game landed at 23.8. This is the worst outing of the season so far but barely. This is the third outing over 20 Harm. For new readers, ten is a decent cutoff between good and bad. Sigh...

Chicago Bears

The Bears had numerous mid-range penalties in harm thanks to a preposterous amount of downs impacted by penalties. All told, the Bears impacted 14 downs in this game. Chicago negated three downs of offense and handed the Bills eleven downs. You read that right. The Bills offense had ELEVEN downs gifted to them. The only disclaimer is that a third down penalty would count as two downs “gifted.”

Let me explain that last thing in a different way because I think it’s crucial to see how crazy this is. Note that a penalty on first down wouldn’t get tallied here. That means the eleven free downs only came when the Bills were faced with second down or worse. The eleven free downs were distributed over eight penalties. That means the Bills were gifted with extra downs eight separate times.

The second crazy thing is their frequent flyer club. It’s not common for a player to have more than one penalty in a game. Charles Leno had three. All of them were false starts. Not to be outdone, Prince Amukamara had four flags thrown. He at least had the courtesy to spice it up with some variety.

One more thing before I give you a GIF I bet everyone wants to see. If anything, the Bills were the bigger beneficiary of phantom calls this week. Both facemask penalties were the result of Nathan Peterman selling it more than the actual contact. Arguably, a roughing the passer could have been called when Peterman was smacked in the head but he would still come out ahead on the day. Now for that pass interference no-call it looked like the refs botched.

Long story short, the refs got this right. Here’s the first sentence of the rule for pass interference (emphasis mine): “It is pass interference by either team when any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball.” By rule, pass interference can’t be called based on where Jones is.

The rule does add that acts that occur within the one yard zone can be considered for “holding.” Fun fact, this is why offensive linemen aren’t called for pass interference. Technically all defenders are eligible receivers messing with their attempt at the ball is interference.

Back on track, defensive holding doesn’t work for this play because defenders are allowed to push, pull or “ward off” offensive players. It’s arguable that there’s a need to “ward” here, but eligible receivers are generally considered “obstructing opponents” for the first five yards. So Zay Jones is still an “obstruction” that the defense is allowed to contact. Now, Kyle Fuller isn’t allowed to flat out tackle someone as that is considered holding. Remember though that Fuller is also an eligible receiver in this instance and has the same right to the ball as Jones. As Fuller jumps in it appears he’s making a play on the ball which is allowable. As such, the contact isn’t considered a tackle. This also emphasizes that Jones is actually an “obstructing opponent.”

Well what about illegal contact? I’m glad you asked. That reaffirms the above. It’s only illegal if the eligible receiver is hit in the back or is hit when he’s beyond a point that’s even with the defender. It’s close, but not quite, a hit in the back. Zay Jones is definitely closer to the line of scrimmage and is therefore not “even with the defender.”

Usually when the opponent has a rougher day we celebrate. When a team hits a cumulative rating of 29.6 Harm like the Bears did and STILL destroys you it’s just more salt in the wound. You’re welcome.