One of the intriguing drills that was observed at training camp for the Buffalo Bills this year has been the inclusion of oven mitts for the cornerbacks. As we detailed here, the idea is credited to defensive backs coach John Butler who hopes to cut down on defensive pass interference and holding calls by making his players less “grabby.” The relatively high frequency of these penalties and their high degree of harm make this a good goal. But what if there was a worse penalty issue out there?
Team penalty tendency
If you follow me, you’ve seen this chart before. It’s the one that was used to show that defensive holding and pass interference penalties are a good start to prioritizing less yellow laundry. It’s included again here to compare to the next chart.
This is the same idea but for offensive holding. This is a list of every offensive lineman that incurred one or more of this penalty type in the same two-year range as the defensive ones. The bottom shows the cumulative totals for everyone and the percentage of the team’s total.
Note that this is only one penalty type, and for one position group. Tight ends, wide receivers, and special teamers hit with this flag are not included but would drive these totals up. Despite the narrow focus, offensive lineman holding penalties occur nearly twice as often as the defensive penalties in the top chart.
Yards affected is naturally higher as a result of how penalties are assessed. As defensive pass interference is spot of the foul, it skews heavily toward penalty yards rather than affected yards. On its own though, linemen negated more than twice the entire length of the field as a result of holding penalties.
Making it even worse is that penalty yards are ALSO way higher for offensive holding when compared to defensive holding and pass interference. The two defensive penalties impacted 236 yards over the two-year span. All by itself, offensive holding impacted 500 yards.
It only gets worse. Despite both defensive holding and defensive pass interference always resulting in a first down, those two penalty types still resulted in less downs impacted than just offensive holding. And when it comes to the super cool and useful Harm Rating, offensive holding nearly doubles the sum of defensive holding and pass interference. Let’s look for a glimmer of hope.
Penalty tendency by player
Note: This article was written before the injury to LaAdrian Waddle.
For the Buffalo Bills of the last couple years, a good chunk of the chart is the same as the one above. The key difference are the two rightmost columns. The snap counts are introduced so we can determine a penalty frequency by player. To reiterate, plays per flag is the average number of snaps that go by between penalties.
The 2017-2018 average is the mean frequency of all of the mainstay players listed above. At 283 on average it shakes out between one and one-and-a-half flags per game. Below that we have many of the new additions that could find themselves on the field this year. Their average is 368 plays between penalties which is significantly better.
Offensive holding is a major issue across the league and certainly for the Buffalo Bills. There is some hope that new players will decrease the penalty count in this area, but that’s far from a guarantee. Even with some improvement this is an area that could stand to be improved upon.
Would oven mitts actually help? If you missed it or forgot about it, take a look at this primer on what constitutes offensive holding. Preventing linemen from grabbing could help them with hand fighting technique and learning leverage as they’d need to be extra cautious. Oven mitts could increase skill level. However, since grabbing is not the same as holding and is a staple of the offensive lineman’s skill set oven mitts probably shouldn’t be something that’s used a whole heck of a lot. Ultimately though, it’s well worth some practice time to be creative in helping limit these flags.