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Penalty recap: Bills at Steelers has twist ending to controversial call

Not only did the Buffalo Bills clinch a spot in the playoffs, they had an interesting penalty night as well

Celebration week for the Buffalo Bills continues with the penalty recap! We have something special too—a twist ending to a controversial call. Maybe the refs didn’t do a bad job after all. Anyway, numerically none of the flags will stand out but the twist is worth the read.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

The league average fluctuates a bit each week but has been relatively stable the last few. Compared to last year, there’s been about 0.5 more assessed penalties per game. The Buffalo Bills are a bit over league average in this game and on the season, averaging 7.5 per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves on the other side of average, but there’s not a major difference between the two teams based solely on count.

Both teams had one declined penalty, bringing their total number of thrown flags a bit higher to keep Buffalo slightly worse than league average and Pittsburgh slightly better.

Penalty Yards

The gap in yards is far more severe. While Buffalo had a higher count, they did not have more than twice the count of the Steelers. This means on average Buffalo’s penalties were for greater chunks of yards. For the Bills, 70 yards isn’t catastrophic but it sure looks a lot worse than 30.

The Bills wiped out 15 yards in addition to the assessed. This was done over the course of two special teams plays. The Steelers negated 13, split about equally between offense and defense.

Penalty Harm

Pittsburgh Steelers

Looking at the chart, this is an incredibly boring penalty game and that’s pretty accurate to be honest. With one exception, none of the flags were controversial in the slightest. Most of the flags don’t have a compelling story, either, as assessed yardage only or the one declined.

Devlin Hodges was called for illegal motion because he failed to reset before the snap. It wiped out a seven-yard gain. Assessed yards led to 0.5 Harm and the negated was 0.7 for a total of 1.2 Harm.

Bud Dupree’s offside penalty cost the Steelers a six-yard sack, which would have doubled their total in that stat for the night. That’s it. Those are the stories. The Steelers ended with 4.3 Harm for the game, which is an incredibly clean, night. Since I like excuses for GIFs though, let’s all take a laugh at this penalty against Alejandro Villanueva that you know we’d have been pissed off about if it had been called on us.

I’ve seen rules enforced to the letter of the law, but never to the serif of the law.

Buffalo Bills

The penalties on the Bills were less cut and dry but, before we dissect them, Buffalo only racked up 9.0 Harm—which is a pretty good game. The aforementioned special teams penalties were the only two that impacted yards beyond assessed. The Lorenzo Alexander one was replayed and seemed kind of ticky-tack and wiped out eight yards. The holding call on Siran Neal wiped out seven yards and was not replayed.

Dion Dawkins’s penalties were both easy calls. The illegal block in the back was a textbook example. The false start was odd but blatant. Pittsburgh saw some subtle movement similar to what was later called on Villanueva. When they pointed at Dawkins he jumped back and then the ref pulled the flag.

Vincent Taylor’s encroachment flag was also really obvious. The offside on Jordan Phillips was less so. He got burned by a flag earlier this year that I felt was a perfectly timed burst, so let’s check in on this one.

The slide marked “Ball still not snapped” is the crucial one. The slide before I don’t think has a good case whatsoever for offside. The slide after has the ball moving so Phillips is allowed to be over the line. From this angle it’s reeeeeal close so I lean toward not calling it. Jordan Phillips shared this better view on Twitter and from that angle I like the flag even less. The only reason this ranks somewhat low on the BS meter is that we’re honestly down to nitpicking frame-by-frame and the officials have a ton to juggle at all times. But it does seem to have been the wrong call.

In the old days of incidental contact to the face mask, Matt Milano would have been hit with that variant. That doesn’t exist now, so he got the full 15 yards. Another face-mask penalty was less egregious.

OK, fine. His thumb brushes the face mask, but the flag still seems like a nuclear option. On the other hand, let me tell you a tale. The year was 2011. On a crisp October day the Buffalo Bills faced off against Washington in what would be the only game in the Toronto series worth remembering. The Bills shut out their opponent and put up 23 points in a lopsided affair. Led by Marcell Dareus, a nine-sack game had everyone in on the fun. Even Kirk Morrison and Danny Batten.

But wait. In order to make sure players are credited when due, sometimes there are stat corrections after the game. It was actually a ten-sack game with one added after the game was over. Look up Sunday’s box-score stats. Edmunds’s name isn’t on the chart. Though they called his number during the game, it was actually Kevin Johnson they wanted to flag.

Johnson’s infraction isn’t egregious either, but it’s a lot easier to see what the refs were thinking isn’t it? If not face mask, illegal hands to the face has a pretty good argument. I wouldn’t bat an eye if something like this were missed, but it’s also defensible to call it.

Buffalo’s penalties then were all at least understandable. And the Bills are still going to the playoffs!