With the 2017 NFL season over for the Buffalo Bills, and no more need for weekly recaps, we can finally focus on the real reason behind penalty data: finger-pointing. Let’s get to it with the top ten(ish) lists of worst offenders.
These numbers come from my spreadsheet, which counts declined and offsetting penalties. What we have then is a measurement of the tendency to commit penalties. There’s some skewing still, with players like Eric Wood seeing higher snap totals than Leonard Johnson, for instance, but this gives us a decent handle on things anyway.
Would you have guessed Jordan Mills had the highest number of penalties on the Bills’ roster this season? Offensive tackles remain one of the highest-penalized positions in the NFL, with the league leader having 20 penalties thrown his way in 2017. That would be Germain Ifedi, if you’re interested. Mills led Buffalo, but he comes in tied for 12th in the league among offensive tackles. Seven of the players ahead of him had ten or more penalties. If you’re intrigued more by assessed count (six for Mills), he’s tied with a sizable group of other tackles for 16th-most in the league.
In context, Adolphus Washington was pretty bad. Defensive tackles aren’t penalized at high rates, and he came in fourth place in the entire league for his position. Only the top two broke double digits, with Ndamukong Suh leading the way with 13, only seven of which were accepted.
Only a handful of cornerbacks broke double digits, but the number of players between seven and nine penalties is staggering. By the time you reach Leonard Johnson, ranks aren’t very meaningful. He’s high for the team, but not for the league.
Jerry Hughes is the penalty poster child for Bills fans, but league-wide he’s not so bad. He ranks eighth among defensive ends. Only Michael Bennett saw double digits at the position, so no one is too far ahead of Hughes, either. Guard Richie Incognito is also eighth for his position group, as is wide receiver Deonte Thompson.
Four penalties is too small a sample across a season to really draw any meaningful conclusions. The only interesting fact is “N/A” penalties are either directly coaching (like Rex Ryan chewing out a ref, or Mike Tomlin tripping someone) or things like 12 men on the field, where technically they’re all partially guilty. These were noted to be one of few true problems last season during Ryan’s second year. Last year’s team earned 13 penalties under the “N/A” label, so McDermott does seem to have controlled this area based on the data.
This gives strictly assessed yards and gives some indication of penalty trends based on type. Hughes and Incognito come out pretty high. For instance, Incognito’s penalties were all offensive holding, and none were declined or offset.
Hughes’ reputation of hot head is pretty valid. Two unsportsmanlike conduct and two unnecessary roughness calls loom larger than his one neutral zone and one offside.
For the most part, the counts and yards are pretty accurate in scope with each other. Micah Hyde stands out as an example of how quickly defensive pass interference can catch up to you. Hyde had only three penalties the entire year, one of which was declined. However, a 15-yard roughness call and a 44-yard DPI add up quick. As an aside, Hyde played 96% of defensive snaps and nearly 20% of the snaps on special teams. Although safeties generally aren’t heavily penalized as a group, a cost/benefit analysis of Hyde looks to be heavily skewed toward the benefit side of the ledger.
We’ve already spent a lot of words in the last two categories, so we’ll keep this one straightforward. This adds the impacted yards to the assessed, and shakes out as expected. With six holding calls to his name, Incognito had a lot of potential to wipe out positive yards.
You see several players from the last chart creeping toward the right, and it’s a similar story. Whereas Hyde’s DPI call is credited on the assessed side of things, Dion Dawkins, Eric Wood, and Deonte Thompson have their real impact in what play(s) didn’t count as a result of penalty. Logan Thomas leaps into the picture as a result of a 44-yard LeSean McCoy run we’ve discussed before. Offensive pass interference is only officially credited with 10 negative yards each time, but the 33-yard play Jordan Matthews wiped out is the bigger story and indicates why he shows up here but not anywhere else.
The homebrew stat mixes things up quite a bit. This factors the true yards information directly above and also weights in things like free downs given (or firsts negated) and other opportunity costs such as points negated.
Incognito makes perfect sense with his high rate of holding calls that negated a good chunk of positive yardage. He also negated two downs in there to come out near the top.
Leonard Johnson, Dion Dawkins, Jerry Hughes, Eric Wood, Jordan Matthews, and Jordan Mills are all pretty much a function of an earlier point. High counts, high numbers in negated yards, and some negated/given downs are all about as expected. Lorenzo Alexander shows up here mostly due to giving up four downs over the season.
Charles Clay makes his first appearance on the lists and is mysteriously right in the thick of it. Against the Chargers, Clay was called for offensive pass interference, which negated his TD reception. The Bills weren’t likely to win that game anyway, but in a more global context, wiping out a touchdown is always really, really bad. Aside from that factor, he only had two penalties for 15 yards (17 true yards) all year.
Our worst offender of the year award goes out to Adolphus Washington. We noted he was “pretty bad” for defensive tackles, but his name hasn’t loomed large in any of the other contextual stats we’ve analyzed. Interestingly, had he shown up on the true yards chart, you’d have noticed an anomaly. His assessed yards sit at 45, but his true yards are 44. Where he went wrong though is the “when” of his penalties. Overall, he gave up seven free downs across three of his penalties. One of these was a dreaded 4th down penalty that set Miami up with first and goal at the Buffalo one yard line rather than 4th and 1. As this is a completely avoidable penalty, the worst offender of the year label is quite warranted.
There will be team focused yearly reviews and more to come. If there’s anything penalty related you’re interested in, add a comment and we’ll see where it takes us.