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Penalty recap: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills

Another clean—albeit incredibly strange—game when it comes to penalties

What a great way to end the season! The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins kept it close (and interesting) for quite some time. The Bills got rolling after a triple disqualification and never looked back. Statistically, this is a bit boring when it comes to penalties. Looking between the numbers like Neo though, it was one of the strangest penalty games in recent memory.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Count

Looking at the assessed flags (left set of columns), it’s very clear both teams had a good day looking at the traditional measures. When we add in the declined/offset penalties to get the true count, the Bills still hold up pretty well with two penalties that don’t go into the stat book. The Dolphins had four, which is pretty crazy. Essentially, they had a normal day regarding what was called, but had a very high rate that didn’t count. Well, in a traditional sense at least. Things get weirder.

Penalty Yards

As is usually the case, low count leads to low yards. It’s more relevant to look at rate data in all likelihood. The league averages 8.55 yards per assessed penalty. The Bills had 8.0 and come out ahead of the game using that measure as well. The Dolphins are slightly the other direction at 8.75 yards per penalty. In reality, both teams had a pretty ordinary day when viewing things this way.

When we examine yards negated by penalty, the Dolphins had none. The Bills had a ten-yard gain wiped out by penalty, which almost erases the gap between the two teams.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

These pretty much all have a story, so let’s just dive in. LeSean McCoy’s holding flag came on the same play as the defensive pass interference by Bobby McCain. Those penalties offset.

Jordan Mills was disqualified for his part in a skirmish that occurred after Kiko Alonso’s latest attempt at a cheap shot. As there were flags everywhere, this, too, is technically “offset” and doesn’t count on the stat sheet. On his other flag, Mills’s illegal block above the waist wiped out a ten-yard Charles Clay catch. It would have been a first down on second-and-nine. For the math, that’s 10 assessed yards + 10 negated yards + 1 negated down = 3.0 Harm. It’s the worst penalty by harm on either team.

False-start penalties aren’t usually a story, but the one on Dion Dawkins is the exception. Assessed at four yards, I bet you’re thinking the Bills were on their own eight-yard line. Nope. They were on the 34. Occasionally there’s some wackiness with measurements and we have the pleasure of calling this one out. The penalty occurred on 4th down with less than one yard to go. The ball was spotted at around the 34-and-a-half. The refs moved it back five to the 29-and-a-half or so. Often when a ball is spotted between yard markers it’s rounded up for record. Except when the rounding would grant a first down. For this penalty, that means the pre-flag marker was rounded down to the 34-yard line. The post-flag marker gets rounded up and that’s how you get a four-yard penalty for false start in the middle of the field. Maybe it’s easier to see what I mean.

Josh Allen’s intentional grounding was assessed at ten yards. Add in a loss of down and it comes to 2.0 Harm. Also of note, this is a rookie mistake that hopefully he moves away from in year two. Even the best quarterbacks get flagged for this on occasion, but the odd “shove it toward the sideline” decision isn’t one I’m hankering to see replicated.

The loss of downs on two penalties push the rating for the entire game to 5.4 Harm. That’s still a good day, just not as clean as the traditional stats might have you believe.

Miami Dolphins

This chart is so weird. Eight penalties and only three with harm ratings. Three we’ve discussed (DPI and two disqualifications were offset). The holding on Laremy Tunsil was declined as it occurred on an incomplete pass on third down. The fifth penalty with a zero harm rating was an unnecessary roughness on Kiko Alonso. Occurring at the one-yard-line after a play that earned first down it was assessed as “half the distance to the goal.” Similar to our math anomaly above, the penalty should be half a yard. However, they don’t do things in half-yard increments. Rounding up would go into the log looking like the Bills were gifted a touchdown so it gets rounded down. A zero-harm roughness call. Told you things were weird.

That was hardly the worst infraction ever, but Alonso really should have known to pull up out of that hit. Furthermore, in this situation most defensive players are pretty good at just escorting quarterbacks to the sideline with maybe a little shove on the shoulder. Let’s dissect his other flag now.

At the risk of sounding unpopular, Alonso was committing to the play close to the time of the slide and going frame by frame, I think he really did try to avoid contact at the last second. On the flip side, while I’m not sold on it being purely malicious, it was incredibly dumb. Like above, you have to understand it’s a quarterback in your sights and that a slide is possible. Dropping low is a terrible idea. And for the record, I do think there was some attempt at payback for the last meeting when Allen schooled Alonso.

For the rest of the melee, Robert Quinn earned his ejection. The dive into the pile probably wouldn’t have done it alone, but the prolonged wrenching on the facemask was sure to. I couldn’t get it in the clip due to file size constraint, but he even takes a swing. It was an ineffective rabbit punch for the record. Jordan Mills was most likely the refs setting the tone. He did try to remove Quinn from the pile and grabbed him by the head but I’m not convinced that usually gets you thrown out. Ike Boettger earned it, if anyone.

After the fight, the refs were on high alert. Credit to the Bills for keeping their cool, which is easier when you’re ahead on the scoreboard. The Dolphins weren’t so lucky. Here’s Exhibit A.

Minkah Fitzpatrick was frustrated and just got hit in a way I’m sure he didn’t appreciate. The block was legal, however, and that little punch/shove thingy was enough to get an official’s attention. And now for Exhibit B.

Cornell Armstrong did something I guess. I’m not sure what, but it earned him 15 yards for unnecessary roughness. What I will say is that it probably wasn’t too bad if the broadcast didn’t go back and find it. They showed the Trent Murphy fumble recovery that gave the Bills the ball instead. Going back to weird, compare the Fitzpatrick and Armstrong penalties to the Alonso ones. Aside from being ejected, Alonso’s penalties don’t even rate in any metrics except for adding one to the count. The other two make up nearly the entirety of the stats for the Dolphins.

Despite two unnecessary roughness flags, one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and two ejections the Dolphins had a better day than the Bills in penalty harm. As a result of all the wackiness, their grand total is only 3.5 Harm.