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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets is a lopsided affair

The Bills return to their winning and frequent penalty ways

The Buffalo Bills performed their season sweep of the New York Jets and did so awash in a sea of yellow. It was the kind of game that might make you think “Gee, I bet the Bills are fourth-worst in the league with penalties at 6.86 per game.” And you’d be right. The Jets weren’t so bad, which is odd because they’re the third-worst in the league.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Congratulations everyone! We made it. The plateau. The assessed count shifted down by a mere 0.01 per team each game and the true count remained perfectly stable. From here on out, minor fluctuations if any should be expected. If you’ve been following along this year you know this is lower than last year’s averages, which suggests the league is trying to cut down on flags.

Also, as you can see the Bills and Jets had specific numbers this week but let’s just move on.

Penalty Yards

The league average assessed yards shifted down around a quarter of a yard so we may not have hit the yardage plateau just yet. I assume we’re close though. This suggests not only has the league been trying to cut down on the number of penalties but the type has started shifting toward the little guys.

Remember that the right-hand columns count the assessed yardage (capture on the left) and any yards that were negated by penalty. I’m sure there’s something I could say about the game this week but let’s continue moving on.

Penalty Harm

New York Jets

Several of these were ho-hum including the two false starts and Pierre Desir’s illegal contact that was declined thanks to Stefon Diggs gaining nine yards on a pass from Josh Allen.

For a good look at George Fant’s holding call, click through here to read about Jerry Hughes’s big day. As a side note, Sam Darnold had run for ten yards, which was wiped out here. That single run late in the fourth would have increased the Jets’ second half yardage total by 250%.

Quinnen Williams was called for roughing Josh Allen as he hit Allen’s facemask with his helmet. It wasn’t a dirty hit by the look of it but warranted. As Allen hit Beasley for a first down this was just the 15 assessed yards after the play.

Connor McGovern was flagged for unnecessary roughness and this one looked pretty dirty. This came on Hughes’s interception and McGovern drove down onto Hughes when it was pretty clear he was already down by contact. This was half the distance to the goal but the proper punishment probably should have been Tyler Bass kicking a seventh field goal to figuratively flip the bird to McGovern.

And now the one you’ve all been waiting for, Mekhi Becton’s illegal formation penalty! This one was so high on the Harm rating because it wiped out 14 yards on a pass to Chris Herndon. That would have been his first (and only) catch of the game. This also occurred in the second half of the game. That means all 24 negated yards by the Jets occurred in the second half. It also means they had six times the negated yards than they did ones that counted. Back to Becton...his flag also occurred on 3rd-and-8 making this one a literal drive killer.

I have two angles on this because the penalty is so subtle. There are three rules for a “legal” formation and we’ll come back to this again later on so let’s get ‘em out of the way.

  1. Seven or more players HAVE to be on the line (typically the linemen and two skill players)
  2. The players on each end have to be eligible and everyone between them must be ineligible
  3. Nobody can be out of bounds. OK, that one is pretty easy

Please note that there’s always a little grace here, though “the line” is well-defined. From a purely technical reading of the rule only the “snapper” can have any part of their body even with the the ball. Everyone else “on the line” has to be behind the ball but forward of the “beltline” of the snapper.

Put more simply, the center lines up holding the ball and the other six or more players that have to be on the line need to be slightly back but with their helmets around the waist of the center. Sooooo many rules.

All of that said, Becton probably is too far back. We don’t have a perfect angle but the ones we do have place him a bit further back than the tackle on the other side who is a bit behind the guards. That covers the technical aspects of this penalty. Hold onto all that because I’ll give some opinions here in a bit.

The Jets’ total comes to 9.3 Harm, which isn’t too bad of a day when it comes to penalties. A good chunk of it came from the Becton flag that arguably was a big deal. In the fourth quarter of a one-score game you can’t take away the one big play you made.

Buffalo Bills

This thing is already at a high word count so let’s just say the vast majority of these were pretty boring. If you have a question on one I don’t cover, let me know in the comments. Since I do get asked opinions on flags quite often here’s my quick thoughts on a few:

  • Tre’Davious White’s defensive pass interference call was warranted. He was pushing on the receiver’s chest while the ball was in the air and used some of that leverage to turn to the ball. Easy call.
  • Micah Hyde’s pass interference I don’t see. There’s contact but nothing that impacts his opponent’s ability to catch the ball.
  • Micah Hyde’s unnecessary roughness call? Sorry but this is a good call. The rule calls a receiver “defenseless” through the process of the catch and prohibits contact to the head OR neck area. Such contact is prohibited even if initiated with a shoulder. Hyde led with his shoulder but hit in the neck area. Also note, the contact is prohibited even if it started lower. So even if you argue that Hyde started shoulder to shoulder, a slide up to the head or neck would be prohibited. An illegal hit doesn’t make a player dirty. This was just an unfortunate angle but a good call on the flag.

On to the big one (seven points taken off the board + 22 yards + 5 penalty yards + 1 down = 10.7 Harm). Take a close look at the chart above. You’ll notice that this illegal formation wasn’t officially credited to Gabriel Davis. The broadcast team was confused by this one and guessed it was on Davis. The officiating crew never announced a name. Let’s take a look with our new understanding of the rule from above.

I pulled all three angles for this one. The first is the broadcast angle live and it sure looks like Gabriel Davis is on the line. Remember his helmet needs to line up ahead of Mitch Morse’s beltline but behind the ball. But at the end of that angle we see the flag is actually on the other side.

That angle and angle two make it look like Stefon Diggs is also lined up correctly. Ah hell. That third angle. If Stefon Diggs is lined up on the line that means Reggie Gilliam shouldn’t be. Or the reverse. Remember that of all the players on the line, only the one at each end can be eligible. Diggs and Gilliam can’t both be on the line on the same side.

This is why the flag isn’t called on a specific player. Either player could step back and make this a legal formation. The refs don’t have the play book for the Bills so they don’t know who was supposed to be off the line.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. Diggs is arguable. And I agree. That said, none of the angles are as good as what the official had and even on our angles it’s reeeeeal close.

To editorialize a bit, I think these are both the right call but this is such a weird penalty that I hardly ever like it being called. Becton’s was almost certainly an illegal formation. As was the one on the Bills. Both are probably half a yard at most from being legal. Objectively this seems like less of an advantage than a false start but the false start blows the play dead immediately. For illegal formation the refs allow the offense to play the snap and in both cases here a big play was wiped out. I’m not sure I have a good solution but these always feel wonky.

NOTE: Football Zebras also add this to the mix. Teams have to present a legal formation before and after a shift (two or more players moving at the same time). Stefon Diggs started on the left side of the formation and Gilliam was originally off the ball. As Diggs crossed, Gilliam moved forward creating a shift. As the original formation was not legal this is also a penalty. Splitting hairs here, but if that’s what the ref saw it should have been called an illegal shift rather than illegal formation but the Zebras are right on the rules violation.

All that said, the Bills had a really bad day with 24.6 Harm on the day. Hopefully they can clean things up at some point.