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Buffalo Bills 2019 Penalties: Pointing fingers

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It’s time to close the 2019 penalty loop with our annual exercise in finger pointing

Data is great, but why bother if you can’t put it to good use? Penalty data is no different so let’s put it to good use. And by that, I mean let’s point fingers at who was most responsible for penalties in the 2019 season. In our last look at this season’s Buffalo Bills flags we close out the year the way we always do. Cue the blame game!

I don’t mention this often enough, but a huge shout out to nflpenalties.com. Without the great work done there with data collection, penalty harm would be a pipe dream.


By penalty

I’ve noticed that these end-of-year recaps can get a little wordy and worse, focused on the points I’m interested in. I consider that worse because if I know the audience for these like I think I do, there’s so much more you would discuss if you just had the information at your fingertips. I may have done the work collecting, but it was all for your benefit the whole time. So here’s a huge table that lists all the penalties called on the Bills and a bunch of stats for each one.

These are sorted the default way of pivot tables, which is order of first appearance. I kinda like that as it’s a bit different and gives yet one more piece of information to digest. Rather than explain all of this number soup, I’ll focus on a few fun facts. Poke around, talk or ask about anything that piques your interest in the comments and most importantly have fun.

There are a few penalty types with negative yards affected. If you notice the types, they’re often penalties that are accepted because the play on offense wasn’t very effective. In all three cases here, there was a semi-productive offensive play and the free down(s) or penalty resulting in “no play” was more valuable than the gains.

Offensive holding is, was, and likely always will be the king of the penalties. The NFL has had over 7,000 yards assessed on 727 flags this season. False start is second with 570 flags. No other type has more than 279. On the other end of the spectrum is kicking the ball out of bounds on a kickoff. It was called once on the Los Angeles Rams but declined by the Dallas Cowboys. Why would anyone decline that? It was an onside kick and declining it gave an additional six yards on the recovery.

Back on track, one of the reasons offensive holding is so well represented is because it’s called on both the offense and special teams. We promised finger pointing so let’s start that process by calling out the team by phase of game.

By phase of game

Here’s a quick pie chart to illustrate how much worse the offense is when it comes to penalties than the other phases of the game. Special teams shouldn’t be a surprise due to the lower amount of playing time. At just over 400 snaps on special teams this year, they’re well short of the roughly 1,000 of the offense and defense. Offense and defense are roughly equal, however, which makes the offense stand out.

Looking at Harm, things are a little more even. The Bills had 161.9 Harm total for the year, broken down as you see above. The defense pulls even largely as a result of how many flags carry automatic first downs. The three turnovers negated via penalty didn’t help either, accounting for 12.0 of the harm seen here.

By player

Here’s what you came for and this year I’m gonna leave you mostly to your own devices. I highly recommend viewing this in desktop mode if at all possible to fully take advantage of sortable columns.

Nerd time

Player Count of Penalty Sum of Downs Given Sum of Penalty Yardage Sum of Yards Affected True yards Turnover negated Sum of Harm Rating
Player Count of Penalty Sum of Downs Given Sum of Penalty Yardage Sum of Yards Affected True yards Turnover negated Sum of Harm Rating
T. Johnson 1 0 5 0 5 0 0.5
J. Feliciano 7 0 60 19 79 0 7.9
M. Morse 9 2 24 24 48 0 6.8
J. Hughes 7 1 39 0 39 0 4.9
J. Phillips 10 1 54 0 54 2 14.4
T. Nsekhe 6 0 35 1 36 0 3.6
D. Dawkins 12 0 60 -2 58 0 5.8
T. Murphy 5 1 30 0 30 0 4
J. Allen 3 2 36 0 36 0 5.6
C. Ford 10 3 95 37 132 0 16.2
D. Knox 3 2 30 6 36 0 5.6
E. Oliver 2 1 20 0 20 0 3
L. Smith 9 0 55 20 75 0 7.5
N/A 7 0 29 8 37 0 3.7
M. Alexander 1 0 8 12 20 0 2
K. Johnson 4 2 35 -7 28 0 4.8
T. White 7 10 59 0 59 0 15.9
M. Barkley 1 0 5 0 5 0 0.5
S. Neal 3 0 25 7 32 0 3.2
I. McKenzie 2 0 20 0 20 0 2
D. Johnson 3 0 10 -3 7 0 0.7
M. Milano 3 1 34 0 34 0 4.4
L. Alexander 4 0 40 20 60 0 6
S. Lawson 3 1 35 1 36 0 4.6
T. Kroft 4 1 25 11 36 0 4.6
K. Peko 1 0 12 0 12 0 1.2
T. Edmunds 1 1 6 0 6 0 1.6
A. Roberts 1 0 10 1 11 0 1.1
Q. Spain 4 0 20 14 34 0 3.4
J. Poyer 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
C. Liuget 1 0 15 0 15 0 1.5
D. Singletary 2 0 10 0 10 0 1
S. Lotulelei 1 0 5 0 5 0 0.5
V. Taylor 1 0 5 0 5 0 0.5
L. Wallace 1 0 5 -4 1 0 0.1
R. Ferguson 1 0 5 0 5 0 0.5
R. Foster 1 0 10 11 21 0 2.1
K. Coleman 1 2 15 0 15 1 7.5
T. Sweeney 1 0 10 12 22 0 2.2
R. Bates 1 0 5 0 5 0 0.5
D. Marlowe 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

All of this is easily manipulated so you can take a look in a lot of different ways. There’s one more thing I think you’ll want and that’s a list of penalties each player committed. There’s an easy way to get that information.

Go check out the robust tools of nflpenalties.com. The link in this sentence will take you to the Buffalo Bills sorted by player. Clicking on their name will give you all sorts of fun information. You can even change the year easily enough at the top left of the screen so you can verify things like this being an anomalous year for Lee Smith.