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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills play cleanly against Miami Dolphins

Another clean day from the Buffalo Bills helped them in their quest to sweep the Miami Dolphins

The Buffalo Bills went down to Miami and played their best game of the season (so far) to take down the Miami Dolphins. Efficient and effective, the Bills were in control from the start. It wasn’t a mistake-free day but it was darn close, even extending into the realm of penalties.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Before we go any further, check out the league average in assessed count. Nice! For those assessed penalties, both teams performed better than the league average, with the Bills edging out the Dolphins. True count adds in declined and offset penalties. There were offsetting penalties in this game, accounting for Buffalo’s increase of one. Miami added three declined to the mix as well.

This is a good game to remind everyone why I track declined penalties. My philosophy is that, generally speaking, they only were declined because something worse happened to your team. You’ll see what I mean below.

Penalty Yards

There’s a little bit of intrigue here as the Dolphins have lower assessed yardage despite a higher count. Both teams were comfortably below average, however. True yards adds in negated yards, which flips the script yet again. Thanks to a Miami flag that wiped out their second-longest play of the game, they make a decent jump.

Penalty Harm

Miami Dolphins

The high number of declined/offset penalties creates a lot of zeros in the chart. J’Marcus Webb was called for offensive holding but the 7-yard sack from Jerry Hughes was the better outcome. Jomal Wiltz’s defensive holding wasn’t as enticing as an 18-yard pitch to Frank Gore. And the Bills would have been crazy to accept Ken Crawley’s defensive holding flag rather than the Josh Allen rushing touchdown. Speaking of Crawley, he was also called for unnecessary roughness toward the beginning of the game. Let’s check in on that.

If this happened a week ago I probably rate it a two or three on the BS Meter. It definitely meets the criteria for unnecessary roughness but it’s not egregious. Following the melee on Thursday night and in consideration of the sometimes-heated division rivalry I actually like this flag to set the tone.

Too many men on the field and false start don’t have very interesting narratives so we’ll jump ahead to Clive Walford. Called for an illegal block on the waist on a kickoff at the Miami 18, the flag was good for half-the-distance-to-the-goal or 9 yards, which results in 0.9 Harm. Walford was also called for a double-team block, which resulted in 10 yards on another kickoff.

Nik Needham was called for defensive holding. This flag move the Bills five yards as well as gave them one free down to land at 1.5 Harm.

The worst penalty of the day for either team was courtesy of an offensive holding call on Even Boehm. This penalty was assessed at 10 yards, negated a first down and wiped out a Ryan Fitzpatrick 20-yard scramble that would have effectively doubled the output on the ground for Miami had it counted. Let’s look at this one too.

This one seems pretty clear. The only thing preventing it from achieving a score of “0” or a “textbook” example of a penalty is that the broadcast angle doesn’t give a great shot at the hand to know if it’s grasping. It almost certainly is, though, and the 4.0 Harm is fine.

Remember that under 10.0 total harm is the desirable landing spot. The Dolphins had 8.4 total, which is a good day at the (penalty) office.

Buffalo Bills

Mitch Morse was called (fairly) for an illegal block in the back that was offset with the roughness call on Crawley for 0.0 Harm. A defensive holding call on Taron Johnson and a false start on Tyler Kroft were both yards only for 0.5 Harm.

I don’t mind the Shaq Lawson call for unsportsmanlike conduct. Coming early in the second quarter, this flag helped set the tone on the field, just like the roughness call on Crawley.

The worst flag for the Bills was on Cody Ford for offensive holding. The 10-yard penalty also wiped out a 6-yard run by Devin Singletary that had earned a first down. For the math inclined, 10 yards assessed + 6 yards negated + 1 down = 2.6 Harm. Was it fair?

I think this one is pretty textbook. Grabbing and creating a material restriction are the necessary components for this penalty. I’d say those are both a big “check.”

Let’s look at one more—the roughing the passer call on Corey Liuget. Occurring on first down, it was yardage only for 1.5 Harm.

Being candid, I think this is a good call according to the rule. There’s enough contact to the head and neck area to justify the thrown flag. The fact that the helmet is shoved up a bit helps the case. I point out the two-step rule and the fact that Liuget put his hands down as mitigating factors. The reason this one merits a higher BS rating is due to the fact that the rules put defenders in a tough spot. It’s clear Liuget didn’t attempt to bury Fitzpatrick, and if anything he worked to avoid it. A slightly lower hit would have been better, but this is a fairly clean play gauged by intent on Liuget’s part. These calls are a big reason defenders pull up and miss sacks.

Buffalo’s total harm came out to a paltry 6.7, which equates to a very good day.