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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills thankful that penalties didn’t derail momentum vs. Dallas Cowboys

Several controversial calls set a bad tone early, but Buffalo bounced back to trounce Dallas

Before we begin, a reminder that the intent of the series is to evaluate the harm of the penalties that DID occur. It is not to measure the fairness of the officiating crew or non-calls. That said, I was expecting a flag for a late hit on one Mr. Josh Allen, especially after seeing a similar flag in the game go the other way. The most important thing to remember is that the Buffalo Bills still dominated the Dallas Cowboys in front of the entire world.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty count

Bills fans looking for biased officiating won’t find a whole lot to deter them with this graph. The Cowboys were under the league average for both assessed and true count. The Bills were around average for assessed count, but were a bit elevated when it comes to true count, which adds in their three declined penalties.

Penalty yards

This chart gets a bit wacky. Despite the Cowboys having lower counts than the Bills they’re reversed when it comes to yards. Buffalo’s assessed yards not only are below what was assessed to Dallas, they’re comfortably below league average.

Dallas had one yard impacted by penalties. The encroachment penalty in the final moments negated a kneel down that are usually recorded as a loss of one yard to create a six-yard swing. What’s really weird, though, is me saying that Buffalo actually had LESS true yards than assessed. In a rare occurrence, a holding call occurred on a run for a loss, but such a small loss that the opponent didn’t decline. The flag on Dion Dawkins below is the one in question.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

It’s a GIF kinda recap as fairness was the biggest question mark exiting the game. You’ll have to take my word (or look yourself) for a few as otherwise your browser will be mad at you. The neutral-zone infraction was 100% on Jerry Hughes. The second Dion Dawkins holding call seemed warranted.

The illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty called on Jordan Phillips was actually a good call. The broadcast replay made it seem like it was a result of contact with Dak Prescott. Instead, there was an earlier infraction while working against a lineman. Social media had a better view of the penalty. Since this is a penalty-harm recap, this flag wiped out a turnover, which automatically assesses 4.0 harm (for the four downs you cost your team). The extra 0.5 is the assessed yards.

And now for GIFs...

This was the first illegal contact called on Tre’Davious White. If we go by the letter of the law, it’s a fair call. It’s beyond five yards and essentially a defender can’t initiate any contact at that point. I give a five on the BS meter, which is nearly a blown call, though, because you never see this flagged. If you can’t recall seeing an illegal contact penalty this year prior to this game it’s because you haven’t. At least not in any Bills games. There were three against Dallas. The second one on Tre looked similar.

I think the refs were just in a groove. This illegal contact was called on Kevin Johnson and honestly it’s a probably a good call. I think it should have been defensive holding if anything and it’s a little ticky-tack but I don’t have an issue with it overall.

There’s a case to be made for this flag as the shoulders do turn, suggesting a twist, which is one of the examples of a material restriction for offensive holding. A better angle might even convince me. From this one, though, Dion Dawkins doesn’t have solid contact and I’m not sold the shoulder movement isn’t the result of the defender looking to slip by.

I don’t mind this flag actually. Jordan Phillips is running full tilt well off screen from the portion that I have here. There’s two Bills already involved and there’s no need for a finishing shot like this, especially if contact to the head is involved. It rated how it did on the BS meter mostly because I don’t think this is called every time.

I do think Jerry Hughes could have (and should have) pulled up. But I also think it’s a razor’s-edge decision. Ordinarily I’d give it a two on the BS meter, but Allen not getting the same protection raised it to a three.

Believe it or not, with a higher-than-league-average count and a flag that committed a cardinal penalty sin of negating a turnover the Bills only ended with 10.1 Harm as a team. Ten is the traditional cut-off between bad and good so we’ll call it a “meh” outcome.

Dallas Cowboys

There’s less to unpack here and several were blatant. The false start, encroachment, and face mask flags were all pretty easy to spot. That just leaves us with two defensive-pass-interference calls to sort out.

This one is tough to really judge so the BS level is low. My gut is telling me that the contact wasn’t enough to make Robert Foster go sprawling but darned if I know for sure. With 23 yards assessed and two downs given, it rates a massive 4.3 Harm.

Darian Thompson gets a zero on the BS meter because this is defensive pass interference all the way. There’s no attempt to make a play on the ball and he just barrels into Dawson Knox. Assessed at 18 yards and giving two free downs, it’s not much better than the last one at 3.8 Harm.

If you follow me you know I typically think the refs do a good job. There’s really no defending this game, though. Four of five penalties on Dallas were blatant, textbook examples of penalties. The other very well could be. The flags on the Bills ranged from textbook to WTF. And that’s not even counting a few no-calls.

I still don’t buy into conspiracy theories, but this was a bad game. The Bills ran away with the game despite that. Making matters even more funny, if you buy into penalty harm as a better measure of performance, the Cowboys ended up with 10.7 Harm. Slightly worse than Buffalo thanks to two bad pass-interference flags.