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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals has all the laundry

Two of the top three penalty rich teams battled it and it went exactly how you’d expect

What do you get when you take the team with the most penalties per game and pit them against the team with the third-most penalties per game? Sorry, that’s not a joke. That’s actually what happened when the Arizona Cardinals hosted the Buffalo Bills. And the answer is exactly what you’d expect. A looooooot of flags. As a way to pique your interest, this is a great case study in how metrics can fail to capture reality. Even super cool ones like penalty harm.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Told ya. Twenty flags total when a league-average game is somewhere around 13. The Buffalo Bills outpaced the Arizona Cardinals on assessed penalties though they were dead even on flags thrown. The good news is that declined penalties are only declined because something worse happened on the same play. The Cardinals had two of those in addition to a pair of offsetting flags that impacted both teams (more on that later).

On the league averages, all of the standard measurements went very slightly up this week. This lends credence to my hypothesis that we’ve been at the plateau of flags this year for a couple weeks now.

Penalty Yards

The Cardinals steered heavily toward procedural flags, which explains their low yardage totals. The Bills weren’t quite as lucky and also wiped out a large chunk of yards. All in one play! Neat.

Penalty Harm

Arizona Cardinals

Because of the sheer volume of flags I’ll try to cut down the chatter. None of the false starts are interesting. Trevon Coley’s offside was boring. You’d think the other two would be as well but...

Maxx Williams was on OFFENSE. It’s more common than I thought but still pretty rare. Williams was number five this season with three assessed. Williams’s was declined as it was the same play as Kelvin Beachum’s holding flag. The holding was enforced and wiped out 10 yards + the 10 assessed + 1 down for 3.0 Harm.

Angelo Blackson’s offside was on the usual defensive side of the ball. We’ll cover the Dawson Knox flag that created the offset when we get to the Bills but an interesting question came in from Jordan via email. Jordan wanted to know if the Bills had the option to decline this flag. Why would they do that? More on that in a minute.

For now I’ll answer Jordan’s question directly. Coaches are NOT allowed to decline penalties when they’re offset. I’d like to extend my thanks for the question. The whole point of this series is to get into the nitty-gritty of the rule book. Feel free to catch me here in the comments, via email, or even on Twitter if you have a penalty question. Back to the game.

Dre Kirkpatrick’s illegal use of hands gave up a free down and five yards and that’s the whole story there.

Arizona called for two timeouts in a row in the second quarter, which is considered a delay of game. The Bills were 3rd-and-5 so this gave up two free downs and might be one of the more bizarre and costly delay flags I’ve even seen.

Arizona had a total of 9.0 Harm. Despite the high count, the overall damage was pretty limited.

Buffalo Bills

A lot of “meh” ones here too. Jerry Hughes’s neutral zone, the two delay-of-game flags, the illegal shift, Siran Neal’s holding on special teams, and Darryl Williams’s false start all were pretty straightforward. That leaves four to discuss, with a couple GIFs to make it interesting.

Daryl Worley’s wasn’t too controversial. The broadcast replay clearly shows Worley mugging Christian Kirk. I didn’t GIF this one as a result, but after a re-watch it’s close on whether or not the contact occurred when the ball was in the air. Really that means it might have been “merely” illegal contact, which would have been four yards difference.

Let’s look at Dawson Knox’s illegal block in the back that Jordan was asking about in email.

There’s no argument that the flag was warranted so let’s turn this into a thought experiment. We know head coach Sean McDermott can’t decline the offside as it’s offset but let’s pretend he could have. The reason Jordan asked this question is because of the head’s-up recognition that this flag isn’t always assessed “from the previous spot.” I won’t go into all the details but Jordan is right. This would have been assessed from the “spot of the foul” and Devin Singletary would have been credited for some of the run.

Specifically, the penalty happened when Devin Singletary was at the Arizona 44. If assessed there it would have put the Bills at their own 46. The play started at their own 39 for a difference of seven yards. If the Bills could have declined, I’m thinking they would have done it.

Brian Winters’s holding call capped off a hellish series by the Bills. This “drive” is the main reason why I can’t be mad at the Hail Mary. The Bills could have put the game out of reach earlier but crapped all over themselves. Here’s the whole drive.

  • First down at their own 29, pass to Knox for 10 yards (good start)
  • 1st-and-10, incomplete pass AND illegal shift
  • 1st-and-15, false start
  • 1st-and-20, Josh Allen hits Cole Beasley for 12
  • 2nd-and-8, incomplete pass and unnecessary roughness on Devin Singletary (GIF below) called after the play
  • 3rd-and-23, pass completed to John Brown for 24 yards wiped out by the Winters call
  • 3rd-and-33, Stefon Diggs gets 21

I really need everyone to stop and think about how awful this series is for an NFL team. If you hadn’t seen the game and I told you that within three plays the Bills hit passes of 12, 24, and 21 yards and STILL didn’t get a first down would you believe me? That’s 57 yards of offense without a first down. FIFTY SEVEN!

To make this even more infuriating, let’s look at Devin Singletary’s unnecessary roughness call.

Live I thought this was an illegal blindside block and was pissed it was called as unnecessary roughness. Why would I be pissed that one 15 yarder wasn’t called instead of the other 15 yarder? WARNING! Nerd crap impending.

First off, Devin Singletary gives us a textbook block that could be a blindside. Traveling toward his own end line. Forcible contact with his shoulder. Remember that he doesn’t need to hit the opponent’s head, the forcible contact can be anywhere. It’s not close line play. It checks all the boxes for a blindside block. The reason it’s not is the same reason I wanted it to be a blindside block.

The ball hits the ground first, which means the play is dead. Because of that there’s no more blocking allowed. To call an illegal block suggests that you’re in a scenario where legal blocking exists. That’s not the case after the play. So unnecessary roughness is the better call. The reason I was mad in the moment because even though the yardage is the same the downs are not. As is, it became 3rd-and-23 rather than the 2nd-and-23 I wanted.

Overall the Bills earned their 12.3 Harm, which is a semi-bad day by harm rating. In reality it was a horrific day. The Knox flag and the infamous “four flags on four plays” drive were gigantic.