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Penalty recap: New England Patriots vs Buffalo Bills was mostly clean

Luckily CBS did me a solid so there’s still a reason for you to drop on in.

So a football game happened between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots and I’m pretty sure it was a pretty ho-hum affair with zero extra emotional investment for Bills fans. With such a “blah” game that I doubt anyone has opinions on, let’s jump into the exciting world of penalties.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Last week I announced that I felt we had reached the plateau for penalty counts for the season and seven days later my guess is looking good. The league average on assessed went down by 0.01 per team per game and the true count (assessed + declined/offset) went up by 0.03 this week. Basically no movement.

For both types of measures, the game was pretty average overall. The greatest variance came from Buffalo’s true count. With zero offset/declined flags they come in about two flags under.

Penalty Yards

Our first indication of the severity of the day’s flags always comes from the yardage. For the assessed amounts, both the Bills and Patriots were well under the league average. As both teams were about average on count this suggests the flags were tilted toward the procedural/lower end of the spectrum.

True yards add the distance negated by flags. The Patriots nearly doubled their yardage when this is factored in. The Bills inexplicably get “better.” Well “inexplicably” is probably the wrong word as I’ll explain it below.

Penalty Harm

New England Patriots

These are mostly mundane. The early delay of game and the false start on Jakobi Meyers were distance only. Damiere Byrd was guilty of an illegal shift but the Bills liked the resulting 3rd-and-8 better than setting it back to 2nd-and-15. The decision looks good in hindsight as Buffalo allowed only four yards on the following play, keeping the Patriots to a field goal.

Shaq Mason’s illegal use of hands wiped out a 14-yard gain. For any new readers, the harm formula rates all yardage as 1⁄10 of the total. In this case that’s 24 yards for 2.4 Harm. Joe Thuney was basically the same situation but a 17-yard gain to raise it to 2.7 Harm instead.

Devin McCourty was called for a neutral zone infraction. Traditional methods rate that as five yards and that’s it. Buffalo was at 3rd-and-4 and the five-yard flag gave a free first down. Every down “given” to a team is directly translated to harm. That means in addition to 1⁄10 of the five yards assessed, the two free downs are added as well for a total of 2.5 Harm.

The Patriots had a total of 8.6 Harm. That generally translates to a game where penalties weren’t a significant factor in the game.

Buffalo Bills

This is even more mundane. Brian Winters’s offensive holding call wiped out a one-yard gain. That’s still more intriguing than the false starts on Winters and Dion Dawkins and the neutral zone infraction by Darryl Johnson. All three of those were assessed yards only.

Ed Oliver’s flag has a weird anomaly. Specifically, this is the reason that the Bills’ “true yards” up above were lower than the assessed yardage. This penalty occurred on third down for the Patriots. They gained ten yards but that wasn’t nearly enough for the first down. Rather than take a 4th-and-still-long the Patriots let the penalty wipe out the ten-yard gain and get the first down. For the math on this one it’s 5 yards assessed - 10 yards negated + 2 downs = 1.5 Harm.

Regarding this penalty I’d like to thank CBS for having predictably shoddy replay work. They seem to frequently avoid showing flags, even when they’re pretty impactful, like giving up a first down in a close game. I’m thanking them because it gives me something to show you that’s far better than yammering about a false start. Before I show you the play, here’s the rule on illegal hands to the face on defense:

It is a foul if a defensive player thrusts his hands or arms forward above the frame of an opponent to forcibly contact him on the neck, face, or head.

Note: Contact in close-line play is not a foul, unless it is direct and forcible, or prolonged.

Was Ed Oliver guilty?

Remember earlier this year we talked about close-line play. Ed Oliver certainly qualifies for this exemption so the question then becomes whether or not the contact was either “direct and forcible” or “prolonged.” If my frame counts are accurate, it’s about 23 of a second contact time. Is that prolonged? I dunno. I could be convinced either way. Was the contact direct and forcible? I think you have a case there too. I don’t see a problem with the flag on this play.

The Buffalo Bills tallied 4.1 Harm total for the game. That’s a clean game where you can safely say that penalties weren’t a major factor.