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Penalty Recap: Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders

This game probably could have been called better

I know, I know. Look, I know. It seemed like there were some weird calls didn’t it? Remember, penalty harm is intended to assess a rating on what the call was on the field. It’s not intended to discuss if penalties were fair.

That said, there were were some strange ones. Some of that is likely attributable to the inexperience of the crew calling the game. Referee Land Clark did some side and field judge work in 2018. Then he did...stuff—I guess for 2019. Now he’s in charge of an officiating crew after Walt Anderson retired. Most of his crew has between two to five years experience in the NFL.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Count

The Buffalo Bills came out ahead this week on count, falling just under league average. The Las Vegas Raiders were on the other side of average. Both teams had one penalty declined. There was also a set of offsetting penalties.

The league rates both decreased slightly, which is not unusual in the least for Week 4. However they were already below the historical rates. The season of reduced penalties continues.

Penalty Yards

Despite the lower counts, the Bills were hit with more assessed yardage, mostly off the back of a single penalty we’ll discuss below. Both teams were a good tick above average in this measurement.

For true yards, the Bills negated six yards due to penalty. The Raiders actually negated one yard more than they had assessed, thereby more than doubling the yardage that flags cost them. That was also mostly off the back of a single play.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

These are mostly straightforward. Jerry Hughes’s penalty was the lone declined. Incidentally, this was his first flag of the year and it didn’t even count. Cody Ford’s holding call and Tyrel Dodson’s false start were both assessed yards only.

Darryl Williams and Stefon Diggs were both called for holding and both wiped out gains by Devin Singletary. Williams wiped out the entire three-yard run. Diggs wiped out three out of ten yards gained. Like I said, I don’t usually talk about the quality of officiating, but the flag on Diggs was one I felt was iffy.

Aside from standing out on the chart, Jordan Poyer’s defensive pass interference penalty was one I think was justified. It wasn’t an egregious violation but it’s hard to argue it wasn’t interference. For the rating the assessed yardage was 46 yards. It also gave up one free down as well for a total of 5.6 Harm.

Let’s take a look at Quinton Jefferson’s offsetting roughing call.

The rule states you can’t forcibly hit the quarterback in the head or neck area. It also says you shouldn’t drive a passer to the ground after the ball is released. So yes, this is roughing the passer. I know I’ve argued the technical aspects of rules a ton but I’ve also tried to temper that with “what’s usual.” I don’t mind this as a flag but I’m not confident this gets called every time.

Overall the Bills amassed 9.7 Harm, which puts them barely on the right side of our 10.0 harm line where you should start to think flags had an impact on the outcome.

Las Vegas Raiders

Lamarcus Joyner’s holding call was the lone declined for the Raiders. Johnathan Hankins’s roughing call was yardage only. That was another one I think fits the rule as written but was a bit unusual. Maxx Crosby’s neutral-zone infraction was yardage only as well.

Now Arden Key’s unnecessary roughness call was also technically yardage only. Wait, what? The refs assessed the 15-yard penalty as 16 yards. Seriously. This does happen from time to time. Devin Singletary was actually downed at the Buffalo 37.5 yard line but the official record called it the 37, rounding down. The officiating crew marked it more accurately, placing the ball between the Las Vegas 47 and 48 (though closer to the 47). The official record calls it the 47 and that’s how you get a free yard.

Most of the rest of the flags were assessed yardage plus a little negated yardage but let’s not get bogged down with the boring ones. Let’s talk about that spike. Remember that penalty harm is a red flag system that makes it easy to identify penalties that likely had effect on the outcome of the game.

The Raiders illegal formation was a silly penalty in that it likely didn’t contribute to the success of the play. But there’s no arguing they were guilty of it. Illegal formations are basically the free play of the defense. The officials let the play continue but nothing good can happen for the offense. And in the case of a 49-yard touchdown throw it’s a heartbreaking flag. That’s 4.9 harm for the yards negated + 0.5 for the assessed yards + 7.0 for the touchdown it wiped out. The Raiders did get a field goal out of the drive but I’d argue the system works. This penalty had the potential to take seven points off the board and it directly did remove four.

Finally, let’s take a look at the other half of the offsetting penalties.

Again, this is technically the right call and neither Bills fans nor Raiders fans should be complaining about the offset. But it’s unusual. This is the only one called on a running back this year. Last year there was also one out of 33 called. It was declined. There were 16 called in 2018. One was on a running back. That one was the only one that counted in the history of the NFL. Note: This is the third year of this penalty’s existence.

The Raiders would have had an alright game when it comes to flags except for the one catastrophic one. Since that one counts though, the total comes out to 20.3 Harm which is a very bad day.