Imagine how the game would have gone if the Buffalo Bills had a reasonable number of penalties. While the win over the Denver Broncos was never in doubt, it may have been even less-doubtier if Buffalo hadn’t tripped over itself so often. Let’s take a look at the only stats that matter, penalties.
Standard and Advanced Metrics
The charts really speak for themselves don’t they. The Broncos had a pretty average day when it comes to penalty count. The Buffalo Bills, on the other hand, worked really hard to throw off the concept of scale for these bar graphs. There were no offset or declined penalties in the game.
Despite an average count, the Broncos’ yards were a bit elevated in assessed yards. The Buffalo Bills are a good chunk above average in this measure, which is expected based on the count.
On the right-hand side, the Bills wiped out 20 yards in addition to assessed to land at 110 total yards. The Broncos didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with this measure, either, only negating two yards in addition to those assessed by penalty.
As a team, the Broncos had 10.2 Harm, which is right at the cut-off line between what’s usually seen as a good and bad day. Though technically over the line, we’ll still say they had a good day overall as 3.5 of that came from the encroachment on Mike Purcell.
Down by 17 points with just over a minute to play, the penalty on Purcell was meaningless. Technically, the Broncos could have gotten the ball back with a stop on the fourth-down play, but they’d need to have averaged one score every 24 seconds or so.
Most of the rest of the flags can be described as “garden variety.” A delay of game and a Von Miller encroachment were both assessed as only yards. The two flags for unnecessary roughness were also yards only. Here’s the first of those (the broadcast didn’t catch the second).
Plain and simple, the refs got this right. There’s no need for Dalton Risner to slam down on an opponent on the back of their head or neck. It rates a one on the BS meter only because I can see this one going unnoticed sadly. Additionally, unnecessary roughness is a penalty with a broad amount of discretion making a “textbook” example challenging.
Kareem Jackson got me excited for a moment when I hoped his flag would negate a Josh Allen interception. The illegal blindside block came after the turnover, however. It did negate six of the return yards. For the math on that one, 15 assessed yards + 6 negated yards = 2.1 Harm. But wait a minute, didn’t I say the Broncos only negated two yards due to penalty up above? Well about that...
On the Garrett Bolles holding call, Royce Freeman had been dropped for a loss of four by Jerry Hughes. By accepting the penalty, the tackle for a loss comes off the board to offset four of the six yards negated by penalty. It doesn’t make Bolles’ penalty a “good” one, but it’s certainly “less bad.”
I think there’s a decent case for offensive holding here, though Garrett Bolles’ arm extending is hard to definitively say caused a “material restriction” to Jerry Hughes who was already turning to get to the ball carrier. I also find it ironic that the player who was “materially restricted” was the one who brought down the runner for a four yard loss. It’s ticky-tack so I give it a BS level of three.
It’s a short week and ain’t nobody got time to read through a full recap of this noise. Let’s cover some of the more interesting stories. On the day, the Bills earned 12.0 Harm, which is a rough but not terrible day.
Lorenzo Alexander was hit with two special teams penalties. The usually-steady veteran had an off game that made a couple drives a bit tougher for Buffalo. The weird 0.7 Harm is a result of that penalty being half the distance to the goal.
The three offensive holding calls on offense negated eight yards (six by Jon Feliciano and two by Cody Ford). The one on Isaiah McKenzie was a rare “basic spot” holding call. Josh Allen got to keep his three yards but the Bills had an unusual 1st-and-17. Here’s a look at that one.
There’s an even better case for holding here than above. I don’t think it’s textbook primarily because the literal textbook uses jerking, twisting, turning, and tackling as their examples. The length of the contact, to me, does create the all important material restriction though.
If you’d like to nerd out, and if you’re reading this it’s a safe bet you do, on running plays where there’s no change of possession the dead-ball spot is also known as the “basic spot” for penalty purposes. The spot of the ball depends on which one of the three zones the foul occurred in. For most flags they occur behind the line of scrimmage (zone 1). The penalty is assessed from the “previous spot” or the original line of scrimmage. Flags in zone 2 are assessed at the spot of the foul. In zone 3, penalties are assessed at the “basic” spot or dead ball.
The Bills closed the second quarter in legendary fashion via penalties. With a one-score game and the ball, Buffalo had a great chance to widen the gap before getting the ball again to start the third quarter. When they were gifted five yards by Von Miller, Tyler Kroft gave it right back with a false start. The Bills continued to drive to midfield when a delay of game and false start by Devin Singletary knocked them back to their own 36 on back-to-back plays.
At the stadium the crowd didn’t like the roughness call on Ed Oliver. Let’s check in on this one.
This one rated a BS level of four but you might not like my reasoning. This is absolutely worthy of a 15-yard penalty. And using the helmet to ram, butt, or spear an opponent is even in the unnecessary roughness definitions. So why such a high BS rating? The flag also meets the criteria for illegal use of the helmet usually called as “lowering the head to initiate contact.”
That latter penalty was added for this specific type of hit, where a player ignores the “heads up” method of tackling to lead with the helmet. While both lowering the head and unnecessary roughness are technically correct, roughness calls evoke images of thrown punches, Risner’s move above, and the like. From a fan standpoint it’s easier to conceptualize roughness as a passionate or angry act whereas lowering the head is a matter of form or technique. By calling it roughness the crowd “boos” because we all know this to be an attempt to tackle gone awry with no malice. If we call it “lowering the head to initiate contact” it’s a bit harder to refute isn’t it? If the NFL truly wants to discourage hits like this they’re doing the fans and officials a disservice by mislabeling these calls (in my opinion).