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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns play pretty clean game

Bills fans looking to point fingers probably should point them elsewhere

The Buffalo Bills and their fans are having a bad week after falling to the Cleveland Browns. In a game as narrow as this one ultimately was, it’d be heartbreaking for me to have to tell you that the Bills shot themselves in the foot with a bad flag or two. Luckily that’s not the case as penalties weren’t a major factor on either side. Spoiler aside, let’s dig deeper.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

The league averages remained pretty static this week and are still up slightly from last year. The Bills were pretty close to average counts this week. Close enough to just call it that. The Browns were better off using this measure, and this applies to both assessed count and total or “true” count. Of course we’re not going to let this one graph tell the whole tale.

Penalty Yards

Yards is our first metric that takes the severity of penalty into account. Right away we see the script gets flipped. The Browns are around average and the Bills are under when it comes to assessed yards. The Bills negated 11 yards due to penalty to arrive a little closer to the Browns on the “true” yards side of the ledger but still remain comfortably ahead.

Penalty Harm

Cleveland Browns

With only five penalties for the game this should be short and sweet. T.J. Carrie’s offside penalty was offset by the offensive holding flag on Dion Dawkins. Chris Hubbard’s false start was just as boring as every other false start.

Denzel Ward was called for defensive pass interference. The penalty came on first down and was assessed yards only. At 35 yards, though, it comes out to 3.5 Harm, the worst Cleveland flag of the day. Here’s a GIF.

As a reminder, the BS meter goes from 0 (textbook penalty) to 10 (New Orleans Saints screwed out of Super Bowl). This one is a good call but in real time I think the refs could be forgiven for thinking the pair got tangled. Not quite textbook.

Jarvis Landry’s taunting flag I’m sure was memorable for everyone. Coming after his touchdown to open the game, he pushed his team back 15 yards (assessed on the following down) for the extra point—which was missed.

Larry Ogunjobi’s roughing the passer was on second down. The 15 assessed yards and one free down comes out to 2.5 Harm. Let’s see this one too.

Again, this is the right call. Like above, I could see the refs missing it in real time and it wouldn’t make me all that angry. The flag comes in from the official who has the better view of the shoulder that likely popped Allen in the chin so it’s a heads-up call. There’s also a little bit of elevating into the hit which is a no-no.

As a team, the Browns totaled 8.0 Harm, which falls under the 10.0 threshold that divides good and bad days.

Buffalo Bills

As noted, Dawkins’s holding call was offset. Trent Murphy was called for offside, which is a lot like false start—which Lee Smith was called for. Both are the mundane yards-only variety. While it didn’t rate any harm, let’s look at Dawkins’s flag. On 3rd and 4, had he avoided this penalty the Bills get a free first down. This came at the end of the third quarter and the Bills were not able to convert despite going for it on 4th down as well.

Offensive holding requires a “material restriction,” of which tackling is an example. This one would be textbook or “0” BS except our angle isn’t perfect here. It’s possible he let go and the defender fell, but it looks like his actions at least contributed to the tackle.

Ty Nsekhe’s holding call wiped out a 1-yard Allen scamper on third down that didn’t get the first. The Browns elected to take the yards to hope it would push the Bills out of field goal range. The Bills converted, moved the ball down the field...and missed a much shorter field goal anyway. D’oh! Similarly, Cody Ford and Lee Smith wiped out five-yard runs. The yards negated added to the 10 assessed yards to get 1.1 (Nsekhe) and 1.5 Harm (Ford and Smith). Lee Smith is having his worst year penalty wise and took this one to heart. Let’s see what it looked like.

This one is also the right call. I rated it slightly more “BS” because it’s a little further down the “material restriction” chain than tackling a guy. Jerking, hooking, and twisting are examples of restrictions, though, and Smith gives a heck of a tug. On a gut level I think this one gets missed most of the time. It wasn’t, though, and that’s okay.

Both Jordan Poyer and Tre’Davious White were called for defensive pass interference in the end zone. Poyer’s came on first down and White’s on third. Because both happened when the Browns were on the Bills’ 1-yard line there was no assessed yardage. The only harm was free downs from the White flag. It wasn’t a surrender, however, as these helped set up an eight-play goal line attempt that failed. Cackling ensued.

Despite their higher count, the Bills ended up at 7.1 Harm for the day, narrowly edging out the Browns.