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Penalty recap: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills

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What did the penalty situation look like in the Buffalo Bills’ victory over the Miami Dolphins?

The Buffalo Bills are 5-1. Many fans are happy with that. Others are still seeking a signature victory or two. But all of that can take a back seat to the world of penalty analytics! Come bask in the light of flags as we dive into this week’s recap.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty count

The Buffalo Bills aren’t off to a great start, with nearly two assessed penalties more than league average. The Miami Dolphins are under and the bar graph speaks for itself. When it comes to true count (includes declined), the Dolphins pull nearly even with the Bills.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the right side of the chart as it better captures penalty tendency. Sure, two of the Dolphins’ penalties didn’t “count” but that’s only because something worse happened on the same play. That’s not really a victory.

For fans complaining that the number of flags is ruining the game, they’re on the way back down after slight increases the last two times we checked in.

Penalty Yards

We have a similar story when it comes to yards. What was assessed on the field comfortably favored the Dolphins (left side of the chart). When we add in yards negated by penalty, Miami again pulls in close to Buffalo. For new readers, there’s no exact path to get the league average of negated yards, which is why the right set of bars doesn’t include that data.

Penalty Harm

Miami Dolphins

Most of the Dolphins’ penalties were fairly ordinary. J’Marcus Webb had one holding call that was declined. So did Isaiah Prince as his flag occurred while the clock struck zero in the fourth. False starts pretty much never warrant further discussion. Chris Reed’s holding call was assessed yards only.

J’Marcus Webb also had one flag that wasn’t declined. His holding call with 6:27 left to go in the fourth quarter killed a promising Dolphins drive. Ryan Fitzpatrick had found Mike Gesicki for 28 yards on second down. The 10 assessed yards + 28 negated yards + 1 negated down comes out to 4.8 Harm—the worst flag by either team at a critical time in the game. Let’s gloat take a closer look.

Christian Wilkins started things off with a bang on the second play of the game. There have been eight disqualifications this year. Two benefited the Bills. Buffalo must really be getting under people’s skin. Wilkins’s flag gave the Bills 15 yards and a first down from second for 2.5 Harm.

Eric Rowe was called for defensive holding. Like Wilkins, his flag gave the Bills a first down from second. The Harm of 1.5 is less than Wilkins as a result of the 5 yards assessed rather than 15.

Finally, Michael Deiter was also called for holding. His wiped out a 13-yard gain in addition to the 10 assessed for 2.3 Harm. This penalty occurred on first down, which limited the harm.

All told, the Dolphins accumulated 12.6 Harm, which translates to a day where penalties had a small amount of impact on the outcome of the game.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills have a few more stories to tell than the Dolphins. Tyler Kroft’s false start and Dion Dawkins’s holding call were yardage only. Kyle Peko’s roughing the passer was as well, but at half-the-distance-to-the-goal fell short of the usual 15 yards. The fans in attendance didn’t like this last one so let’s take a peek.

I wasn’t in love with this penalty live myself to be honest, but after getting a good look at it I think it’s the right call. At the very least I understand it completely. The hands coming off the block pretty clearly show Peko wasn’t being helped into Fitz. Peko could have flopped then got up rather than continue into the hit and the final still shows why the “knee area” isn’t fair game. Fitzpatrick’s body position is very awkward as most of his mass is trying to move away from a planted foot while the knee tries to bend the wrong way.

Shaq Lawson’s roughing call was the usual 15 yards plus one free down for 2.5 Harm. Bills fans won’t like this, but I agree with this call too. There’s a two-step rule where the defender becomes liable for pretty much any contact and Shaq looked to be on at least his third step.

Several penalties had only small stories to tell. Jon Feliciano’s holding call wiped out a five-yard pass to Duke Williams. Darryl Johnson’s offside call negated a three-yard Miami run, which actually helped lower his Harm rating. Tremaine Edmunds’s defensive-pass-interference call was for six yards and gave up one down.

Cody Ford’s holding call negated a ten-yard run by Allen on second down that would have resulted in a first. The 10 assessed yards + 10 negated yards + 1 down negated resulted in the 3.0 Harm.

The biggest one for the Bills came courtesy of Dawson Knox at 3.6 Harm. Knox wiped out 6 yards of a 10-yard run as well as 2 downs. This is all in addition to the standard 10 assessed yards.

I’m not a fan of this one at all. From the ref’s vantage point I suppose I can see where they might have felt Dawson Knox twists his man. Looking closely, it’s actually the hand inside Knox’s helmet that pulls him off balance, which arguably led to any force from Knox as he tried to stay upright. As the two battle, there’s a good stretch of contact to Knox’s facemask that could have been flagged.

The Bills ended with 15.1 Harm, which suggests a semi-rough day. No single penalty stands out, but a fairly high number of penalties with several over 2.0 Harm can add up quick.