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Penalty recap: Titans’ flags mountainous against Bills

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Penalties carry sky-like burden for Titans

Not since Atlas has a Titan carried a weight as great as the penalties that Tennessee racked up. Spoiler alert, this week was pretty lopsided as the Buffalo Bills didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with a grenade launcher like the Titans did.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Count

Wait Skare, you made it sound like the Titans got the worst of it? This is lopsided the other way, with the Bills clearly having more penalties thrown (12) and accepted (11) than the Titans. Just you wait!

On a side note, the league average went up for the second week in a row. If you’ve felt like the penalties are more frequent you’re not wrong. They’re higher than the league average from last year but also notable is that they tapered off as 2018 progressed. That means viewers settling in for winter games last year saw fewer flags than autumn viewers this year. Every year I’ve been doing this that’s been the trend, but the increase the last two weeks is concerning.

Penalty Yards

The tables are starting to turn. For assessed yards, which is what the box score would show you, the Bills are still on the wrong side of the ledger. Factoring in yards negated via penalty, the Titans add 45 and pull comfortably ahead of the Bills.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

I think this week we’ll do things a bit different. Rather than explain the math behind most of these, I’ll discuss a few controversial ones to flaunt my superior knowledge of encyclopedic, convoluted rules. Take that, fans who spend their time caring about the fun stuff!

In case any new readers come along here’s one math example. Cody Ford was flagged for offensive holding. This was assessed at ten yards. It also wiped out a ten-yard run by Frank Gore. The second-down run would have been enough for the first had it counted. To calculate harm it’s one tenth of all the yards, plus one point for each down. Or 1.0 for assessed yards + 1.0 for negated yards + 1.0 for downs negated = 3.0 Harm.

Most of the flags were pretty cut and dry, but if I missed one you thought was bull$&#^ in my explanations, let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look. Lorenzo Alexander’s horse collar tackle was very clear, for example.

The encroachment call on Trent Murphy raised the ire of fans who felt it should have been called a false start on Tennessee. Let’s have a look.

I could cut and paste the rule book but it’s easier to summarize. You’ve no doubt seen receivers and tight ends move around pre-snap. For the brief version, it’s a false start only if an eligible receiver is already on the line of scrimmage and moves forward. Above, we see the player on the line moves backward. The other player moves to the line of scrimmage. Receivers are even allowed to change stance as long as they reset prior to the snap. Sorry everyone, this is on Murphy—or the spooky ghost.

What about the Matt Milano penalty? He was cut down and accidentally went into Marcus Mariota’s legs. I don’t think there’s much need for a GIF as there was no question he hit low, the debate is whether or not he was trying to. Right? Not really. Here’s a couple screen grabs from the rule book.

Now the first paragraph seems to absolve Milano because a player on offense made contact. However, note that even a cut block isn’t intended to push you behind the blocker. The notes come into play as Milano’s momentum is what makes him roll, resulting in contact. That sounds like a lot of crap doesn’t it? Was Milano trying to roll? Nope. He was trying to not have his own knees implode. Unfortunately, if you think passers have special protections you’re absolutely right. Here’s the second screen grab.

Emphasis is mine. In short, “strict liability” means that you’re at fault no matter what you meant to happen. It makes zero difference that Milano was trying to protect himself. All that matters is he rolled into Mariota’s legs. The refs called this one right too. Sometimes it’s the rule that’s bad, not the person enforcing it.

There were a couple calls I’d say were iffy, but none completely blown. In all, the Bills had 11.8 Harm on the day—which is usually what I’d call a blah day, but not a terrible one. You’d like to see better, but there’s not much to worry about either.

Tennessee Titans

Before I get to the towering pillars toward the right side of the chart, a few honorable mentions. Taylor Lewan, who seems to get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield, wiped out a 26-yard play on his very first play back from suspension. Not a great return to action. The 36-yard swing in field position took the Titans from a good start to a pretty bad one.

Jurrell Casey probably should have initiated a roll to get over Josh Allen rather than tacking on 15 yards for a late hit. While you never know what would have happened otherwise, if Casey had avoided penalty it would have been 3rd-and-8 for the Bills. Tennessee had good success on defense so maybe they make a stop. Also this was the drive that ended in the winning touchdown. Whoops. It could be worse, though.

If there’s one thing you really don’t want to do, it’s wipe out a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a tied game. Jack Conklin was called for holding here and did exactly that. I’m not gonna lie, the holding was ticky-tack. There’s a grab and turned shoulders so it’s not a bad call whatsoever. It’s just one I wouldn’t lose sleep over if it weren’t called either. Also for the record, the other side of the lane has a similar situation going on that also could have been called.

This put them back to 1st-and-goal at the 15. A successful play made it 2nd-and-5. An ill-advised wildcat play call led to 3rd-and-6. Usually a false start is not a big deal. But Taylor Lewan (again) picked the worst time. Now 3rd-and-goal at the 11 the Titans needed a big play. Marcus Mariota zeroed in on A.J. Brown and delivered a touchdown strike!

I’m not above petty. The Titans were flagged for an illegal forward pass. Is this the curse finally lifting? The Titans lose on a super close illegal forward pass as the Bills are ascending. I mean that’s some Quantum Leap poetry kinda stuff right there. And then their field goal attempt is blocked.

The Titans ended the game with 26.5 Harm. That’s a spectacularly bad day. If we’re not counting games I used to pilot the system, it’s the second-worst day I’ve recorded, which goes all the way back to the 2016 season. Here’s the Fan Post I wrote on how bad of a day the New England Patriots had against the Bills in the penalty department.