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Penalty recap: Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills

Penalties and non-penalties played a factor in the game as Ravens eked out victory over Bills

It’s unfortunate that I feel like I need another reminder that the idea behind this series is to assess the harm called penalties created. There’s no clean way to completely avoid the topic of how good/bad the refs were though so...fine. I’ll touch upon it. I think the refs had a bad game. I don’t think the evidence supports a biased game however. The blatant pass interference was bad. Cole Beasley not being flagged for illegal motion on the two-point conversion surprised me. McDermott didn’t appreciate 12 men in the huddle being missed. I could go on. But ultimately, if the refs were trying to screw over the Buffalo Bills, they did an incredibly bad job at it. You’ll see what I mean.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty count

While these counts favor the Bills, this isn’t enough to conclusively rule out bias. The type of penalties make a big difference for instance. Still, though, this is what most fans and analysts will look at and it does favor Buffalo by quite a bit. Both in assessed and true count, the Bills were better off by four flags. Baltimore and Buffalo each had one penalty declined, and the teams had a pair of penalties offset.

Penalty yards

Yardage is a good start to getting an idea of the relative damage done per flag. As Buffalo had roughly half the assessed penalties as Baltimore, it’s not shocking to see the yardage at half. Even factoring in yards negated or otherwise impacted beyond the assessed, this trend remains stable.

What this suggests then is that there was no inherent bias in the type of penalty based on yardage data. As both teams were penalized at similar rates per flag there was no effort to only give Baltimore boo-boos while “sticking it to the Bills.”

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

Being candid, I think there’s more to discuss on the Buffalo side of the ledger when it comes to no-calls than the ones that counted. Mitch Morse was called for his fourth ineligible downfield infraction of the year. He was guilty as hell too, but Baltimore declined. The offset illegal shift was the right call as Isaiah McKenzie started moving before the rest of the team was set, thereby making it so the offense had never presented a legal formation. The holding call it offset was also a good call. None of these had significant impact on the game.

Jerry Hughes was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. There’s no way to determine if this was the right call or not without the audio of what he said to the officials. He didn’t exactly create a massive swing in field position either. The holding call on Star Lotulelei also wasn’t a massive swing and was absolutely the right call. Lotulelei turned and tossed his opponent, which is a tad unconventional.

Kevin Johnson was called for a facemask penalty. While there did appear to be a bit of a sales job on the flag, there’s no question that Johnson hooked the mask and gave a little tug. It turned out to be yardage only for 1.5 Harm.

Quinton Spain’s holding call was a spot-of-the-fall variety. He was assessed at 10 yards and negated 10 yards of a 13-yard run for 2.0 Harm. Spain’s flag wasn’t egregious, but he did hang on too long and prevented his man from turning away/moving in a way that meets the criteria for material restriction. He knew it too as he could be seen putting his hands up in the classic “I didn’t do it” gesture.

Let’s take a look at one that’s less cut and dry, roughing the passer called on Trent Murphy.

I give this a rating of three on the BS measure primarily because of what was called. There’s a really good argument for calling it on Ed Oliver who takes a couple shimmy steps before colliding with Lamar Jackson. If you watch the clip closely, even from this angle you can see Jackson’s helmet snap back. It was called on Murphy for 2.5 Harm thanks to a free down in addition to the 15 yards. While it’s a rule that sliding down the legs into the knees can be a penalty, it’s also a rule that a defender can “swipe or grab” the knee area in an attempt to tackle as long as there’s no forcible contact from the helmet, shoulder, chest or forearm. There’s not a great case to be made there.

The flags that were thrown against the Bills were quite fair. Even on Murphy’s flag, it’s more of a wrong name than wrong call situation. All together, they add up to 6.9 Harm, which if you follow the series you know is a very good day when it comes to flags. It’s safe to say the flags that weren’t thrown may have had a bigger impact than the ones that were when it comes to the Bills.

Baltimore Ravens

L.J. Fort’s roughing-the-passer call wasn’t egregious, but also not an illusion. His left hand came up to Allen’s helmet and gave a bit more of a shove than it should have.

Patrick Ricard’s holding penalty was a bit ticky-tacky but not a bad call. He did reach out and try to pull/twist Lorenzo Alexander back. This flag wiped out a 21-yard gain for one of the worst flags of the day.

The flag on De’Anthony Thomas for unnecessary roughness rates a zero BS, as it’s a simple rule. If you call for the fair catch you can’t then block, a technique known as “The Edelman maneuver.” Here’s the GIF because it’s hilarious.

I’m on the fence for the roughing call on Earl Thomas. He did have his hands on Allen’s helmet when a teammate shoved him, creating a situation that looked like he wasn’t being too kind to our quarterback. But there’s a bit of a pile and it’s tough to claim ill intent. It is a call I understand as there’s no reason to have hands on Allen, and Thomas falls over the quarterback from a pretty small shove. Being devil’s advocate though, we’d have been pissed if this were called on Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer.

The Ravens sure had a lot of calls for unnecessary roughness. The one on Michael Pierce was warranted, but a little odd. He threw Devin Singletary to the ground harder than necessary. Though it’s not a common sight to be flagged, it was fair. Ferguson didn’t enjoy his time with Dawson Knox and gave him a little headbutt after a play, definitely earning his flag. These occurred on the same drive as the defensive pass interference by Marlon Humphrey. At 26 yards and three free downs, it easily rated the highest harm of the game. With all three flags there was 11.6 Harm on just this drive.

The Ravens had 18.0 Harm total for the day. The big penalty drive put the Bills in scoring position to close the game. A very strange way to screw them over to be sure. There’s one more I’d like to talk about, the neutral-zone infraction in the fourth quarter.

Let me introduce you to rule 12-3-4, aka the “Palpably Unfair Act.” There’s a few citations to palpably unfair acts, but the bottom line is that this hidden gem is intended to be called when one team does something blatantly wrong, usually to run time off the clock or in some other attempt to prevent a score. To save you a trip to Google, the word “palpably” means “noticeably” or “clearly.”

Here’s the situation. Devin Singletary has just ripped off a large run of 38 yards to the Baltimore two. The Bills immediately lined back up to run a play and then Chuck Clark does this. Now, is it palpable? Ask yourself this; is there any reason he’d do this EXCEPT to draw a penalty? I’d argue it’s very palpable (especially given his body language).

Is it unfair? Remember the situation. The Bills have flipped the field with one play and are in prime scoring position. They’ve lined up quickly and Baltimore may want to make substitutions. Neutral-zone infractions are different from offsides in that the whistle is immediately blown for neutral zone. You know those free plays that Aaron Rodgers loves to capitalize on? Those don’t exist for neutral-zone infractions.

In other words, the Ravens committed one of the most obvious deliberate penalties I’ve ever seen, with the intentional outcome of not allowing Buffalo even a chance to score on the play and also gave themselves a chance to substitute players they weren’t entitled to. Somehow a one-yard penalty doesn’t seem to match that. Buffalo did go on to score a touchdown, but it was about a minute later. A minute they could have used later in the quarter.

It’s an obscure rule, but the officials should have used it. What’s the penalty for committing a palpably unfair act? Just about anything the officials deem fair, including awarding a score. I understand the reluctance to do that, but an ejection seems warranted in my opinion (and I wouldn’t be opposed to awarding a score on something this obvious).

Anyway, thanks for attending my TED talk. Until next time!