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Penalty recap: Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills—how ‘bout them refs?

Was it really that bad?


Now that we’ve got that out of the wa... WOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Okay...okay. Seriously that was fun. Regarding penalties, which is what I’m supposed to be writing about, a lot of chatter surrounding this game was that the refs were biased against the Buffalo Bills. Cutting to the chase, you’re free to jump right to the comments and start yelling at me. I thought it was called pretty clean. If you care to see me state my case, then please feel free to read the rest.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

So this isn’t a great start for my “The refs weren’t out to get the Bills” hypothesis. What with the whole “Bills getting twice as many flags tossed as the Seahawks” thing. Let’s look at the facts though. For the measures in the chart above, the Buffalo Bills are hovering right around league average.

More importantly the Bills are right around their own average. They’re actually a touch below on assessed, averaging 6.59 flags per game. For called they’re a bit higher than their 7.89 per game average. And at 5.13 per game, Seattle is still under their own average but not drastically so—they’re near their own baseline. Only the lack of declined/offset is any deviation.

Penalty Yards

Yeah, this looks even worse. A lot of this is a function of where the flags occurred though. See below for more details. Neither team negated much yardage (the difference between the left and right columns). Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

Let’s deal with the boring ones. Both Jon Feliciano and Ike Boettger were called for false starts. Ed Oliver’s roughing the passer and Siran Neal’s flags were both declined. Oliver’s because it happened on the same play as Tre’Davious White’s defensive pass interference. Neal’s was declined because the Seahawks gained more yardage than the penalty.

Cody Ford was called for holding. The usual ten yards was mitigated slightly as Seattle elected to take the flag over the three-yard sack.

Cole Beasley pretty blatantly got in the way of a defender and disrupted the path to the ball. As the pass was in the air, that’s a pretty easy pass interference call. That was called for 10 yards + wiped out 11 yards for 2.1 Harm. Buffalo needed 17 yards for the first so no downs were affected.

Let’s get to some GIFs, starting with White’s DPI that had the highest Harm rating of the game. At 25 yards assessed and two downs given up it rated as 4.5 Harm. Let’s see if it was warranted.

FOX didn’t have a good replay and the All-22 angles aren’t perfect but that looks like a “yes.” It was minimally illegal contact, but the pass interference looks like the right call as White barrels into DK Metcalf before the ball arrives.

Because it’s the thing we’re gonna spend some time on, let’s review part of the roughing-the-passer rules. The biggest clause to worry about for this game is that defenders can’t “use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area.” This applies even if the initial contact is elsewhere and then the head or neck is hit. Please note the word “forcible.”

Here’s Ed Oliver’s. Remember this was declined but let’s see if it, too, was warranted.

From this angle that looks like a legit flag. This one doesn’t have a perfect angle either but that left arm appears pretty vicious. Let’s look at the one on Jerry Hughes.

If this hadn’t been called I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. On the flip side I didn’t bat an eyelash that it was called either. It’s not egregious but there’s some contact with the hand and from angle three it looks like a small helmet-to-helmet bump as well. All of the angles show the head rock back so I wouldn’t consider this a bad call. It was yardage only for 1.5 Harm.

Overall, the Bills had 9.8 Harm, which comes out to a relatively clean game.

Seattle Seahawks

Jonathan Bullard was flagged for a neutral zone infraction that was yardage only. As noted above, the total assessed yardage was mitigated by the field position on a couple of these. Specifically L.J. Collier’s horse collar tackle and Quinton Dunbar’s defensive pass interference happened with the Bills knocking on the door.

Dunbar’s occurred when the Bills were 1st-and-goal at the two. Buffalo gained one yard from the flag.

L.J. Collier gave up a free down as the play occurred on second. Josh Allen had brought the ball down to the three and that’s where the penalty was assessed. Because these are generally rounded up for official counts, the 1.5 yards of “half the distance to the goal” becomes two yards.

The Seahawks had 4.8 Harm, which is a very good day when it comes to penalties. We’re not quite done yet though.

I don’t usually dive into no-calls but let’s look at two to show why I think the refs had a good game. First, the no-call roughing on Josh Allen. This one occurred before the one on Wilson and led many to wonder why the Seahawks were “getting the calls.”

Do I think this could have been called? Yes. But it’s more ticky-tack than the one on Wilson. There’s a decent chance the forearm made contact as we see the helmet move. Angle one makes it look more like Allen is tucking for contact, while angle two looks more like it could have been the arm rocking the helmet.

Here’s the other no-call with a GIF. Biased refs might be inclined to call this one on Trent Murphy.

The refs didn’t call this one because outside the pocket the hits to the knee area are no longer a penalty. Similarly, one or both feet need to be on the ground for that to be called and Wilson was in the air when the hit lands. Most of the time the refs get things right and this is a great example of the officials mentally juggling the voluminous rulebook in real time.

A final thought, if there was league-wide bias you’d expect that Russell Wilson would get these calls at a higher rate than Allen. With half the season over that should be a pretty clear trend. Coming into the game Josh Allen had benefited from five roughing calls. Russell Wilson? Just one.