Hey everyone! Still excited about that shocking Buffalo Bills victory over the Minnesota Vikings? Well guess who’s here to rain on your parade? While many narratives called the game complete domination on all fronts, the Vikings significantly outperformed the Bills in the only stat that matters besides points: Penalties.
Traditional and advanced metrics
It didn’t seem like it watching live, but the Bills were penalized. A lot. Their twelve flags doubled the assessed count of the Vikings. The inopportune timing of the Vikings’ penalties made them stand out but, overall, Minnesota had a good game in the count department.
The Bills were well above average on penalties assessed (left columns) and thrown (right columns). The Vikings were under in both measures. The Bills have the second-most penalties in the league with 28 assessed, only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. A lot of this dubious distinction is off the back of the terrible performance in Minnesota. We were all having so much fun we hardly noticed it.
The Vikings assessed yards are about exactly as expected based on count. True yards are hard to assess league wide. Minnesota added 19 yards that were negated by penalty. While that’s not ideal, it’s also not terribly harmful.
The Bills tacked on 33 yards negated by penalty which is pretty bad. Their assessed yards landed at 84, which is above league average—but as much as might be expected based on the incredibly high count. The suggestion is more procedural penalties such as...cough, cough...illegal formation. We’ll see if that holds true in a moment (yes).
Overall this doesn’t look too bad with only a couple standouts. They say timing is everything, though, and ever so true on Sunday. Of the Vikings’ seven flags, six were in the first 18 minutes of game play. Three of their worst penalties were within the first five minutes. Let’s highlight those three.
On 3rd and 4 of the opening drive for the Bills, Josh Allen was sacked for a loss of seven yards. But Linval Joseph was called for lowering his head. The Bills got back those seven yards, another 15 and two free downs. Add it all up and that’s 4.2 Harm. An Anthony Barr face mask gave the Bills ten yards for free on this same drive. This helped set up Josh Allen to fly into the end zone, putting the Bills up early. On the ensuing kickoff with 10:01 to play in the first quarter, the Vikings were called for unnecessary roughness. Instead of starting their drive at the 22-yard line, they were way back at the seven. The Vikings never climbed out of this early hole.
Joseph has plenty of ways to approach a wrapped up Josh Allen that wouldn’t lead to a flag for lowering his head. While this penalty kept the drive alive for Buffalo, I for one would rather have seen a three and out.
When the dust cleared, the Vikings found themselves with 10.8 Harm. Right around the ten mark is a decent indicator between good and bad, placing the Vikings in “meh” territory. Early penalties helped to set the tone of the game, but otherwise Minnesota played clean football.
Once the Vikings got the yellow flags out of their system in the second quarter, the Bills kicked it into high gear. The Bills had eleven penalties in a row before Minnesota closed the game with their seventh (which was declined).
A lot of procedural penalties were hopefully the result of excitement. Two false starts and THREE illegal formation penalties racked up the count without adding a ton of yards. Frequent penalties are a problem of their own for sure, but none of these would stand out individually.
Jerry Hughes’s neutral-zone infraction gave up a free first down (5 yards plus 1 down = 1.5 Harm). Contrasting that, Nate Orchard was called for roughing the passer, but his half-the-distance-to-the-goal only moved the Vikings up four yards.
Tre’Davious White’s penalty was controversial, but the NFL’s 2018 rule changes probably led to some confusion on what was called. The flag wasn’t called for lowering the head like the GIF above. Instead, White was flagged for helmet to helmet contact with a defenseless receiver. As seen below, White executes the tackle perfectly. Unfortunately it does look like his helmet makes contact with Adam Thielen’s helmet as the receiver is turning to become a runner. It’s not egregious, but also not a bad call according to the rule.
Our worst penalty of the game for the Bills was a Jordan Mills holding flag. It wiped out 19 yards of a Marcus Murphy 23-yard gain, as well as the first down Murphy had earned. So, 10 yards + 19 yards + 1 down = 3.9 Harm.
The Bills had 15.7 Harm, comfortably exceeding the Vikings’ total. While not a catastrophic day, the Bills had a rough one with penalties. The good news is this makes the win more impressive. A lot of self-inflicted wounds makes a tough game even tougher. Not only did they overcome their penalty obstacles, they looked completely unhindered most of the game.