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Penalty recap: Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills

This is a Spencer Brown article

There are two things guaranteed to make penalty recaps way more fun. The first is a Buffalo Bills victory. Buffalo took care of that part, handling the Carolina Panthers pretty easily in the end. The second thing is wackiness. And Spencer Brown took care of that.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty counts

This chart is a friendly reminder that low penalties don’t often correlate well to “winning.” Buffalo has been relatively highly penalized siiiiiiince...

Doug Marrone’s teams. That stretch includes some dreadful years, and the more recent hopeful ones.

Penalty yards

There’s one intriguing note here, otherwise this is a pretty good mirror of the last one. The Panthers had a lower count than average but their yardage is a touch higher. That’s usually an indicator of some skewing toward “bigger flags” such as DPI or personal fouls.

Penalty Harm

Carolina Panthers

And we don’t need to wait long to see if that’s true. Four of the six flags were 15-yarders (though one was offset).

If this were a closer game, Panthers fans would have a lot to gripe about. The unnecessary roughness flag on Bravvion Roy was so bad I wanted to double check it was called the way I thought I heard it. I was half-expecting to find out it was listed as “unsportsmanlike” conduct instead. Like, maybe he said something crazy that drew a flag, because there was no way that was roughness.

Making it worse was the timing. The flag occurred after the play. That play was a zero-yard sack of Josh Allen. Yes, the sack got counted. On 3rd & 9 and AFTER the play, that’s a flag that impacts a 4th & 9 situation. This was a touchdown drive for Buffalo in the middle of the third quarter. For the formula, that’s 15 yards + 3 downs for 4.5 Harm. For the record, it was horse ****.

The facemask call was yardage only. Brian Burns’s roughing call gave up a free down in addition to the 15 yards. Yetur Gross-Matos was also flagged for roughing Allen, but this was offset with a holding call on Spencer Brown.

The Panthers had 9.5 Harm total, which is just on the right side of our cutoff. Now let’s talk about Spencer Brown some more.

Buffalo Bills

Half the chart is Spencer Brown. That’s a literal statement. Five of ten flags were on the rookie. Every year I do this series, I toy around with the idea of cutting the “count” columns (the blue ones). The vast majority of the time these are “1.” Even when players commit multiple infractions it’s usually one each of multiple types. And every year, someone like Spencer Brown gives me good reason to keep ‘em. Three holding flags in one game. THREE!

As noted, one of those was declined. One was yardage only. One was yardage plus it negated a two-yard gain. False starts aren’t worth discussing aside from noting their existence. And finally, if you’re been watching Brown this year you’ve been expecting taunting flags and here’s one to justify that feeling. It was half the distance to the goal, and followed a 12-yard run from Devin Singletary. Singletary keeps his stats, though the Bills stayed mostly put.

I also wanted to quickly note that the Panthers declined Mitch Morse’s holding call. This was the play right before the terrible call on Bravvion Roy. The Panthers gambled on 3rd & 9 being preferable to 2nd & 19. And it turned out to be a good decision as it was technically a sack. Good analytics. Good execution. Bad flag. Speaking of bad jobs by the refs, here’s a two-picture gallery.

This is really narrow but the Bills were gifted about a half-yard after Carolina turned it over on downs. The first picture is the ball with the Panthers lined up on fourth down. The second picture is right after the Bills took over. Not a major deal, but when you’re backed up, any breathing room is welcome. And don’t take my word for it, or the stills (which admittedly aren’t ideal angles). The official play-by-play records the error for posterity. The Panthers’ try is recorded as starting at the Buffalo ten. The Bills start off at the Buffalo 11 (cue Spinal Tap GIFs).

One more bad call, and again ticky-tack. Not so ticky-tack that I didn’t call it out live though. In the third quarter with Buffalo up 17 to 8, Josh Allen found Gabriel Davis in the end zone for a touchdown. It was 3rd & 12. What if the Bills didn’t get that play off and had to line up again for 3rd & 17? They arguably should have.

GIF software isn’t great at rendering things that are this close so note that even I’m filing this in the “ticky-tack” category. Here it is slowed down too.

I’ll be 100 percent honest, no one should be upset that this wasn’t called. But it could have been. What the software outputs is not great, but remember that I frame-by-frame these and by my count Daryl Williams is two frames ahead of the snap. That’s about a tenth of a second.

I bring up these ref errors because we often let them cognitively accumulate. Panthers fans seeing the horrific “roughness” call could reasonably perceive bias. If they perceive bias they might find other examples, despite those other examples being true fringe cases. In the vast majority of cases, even with a truly bad call or two the refs do a decent job. It’s the fans who remember every tiny thing that didn’t go their way and nitpick it. I’d add that the no-call false start was later in the same drive that was extended by the awful Roy call. In what was a pretty close game, those are two instances on one drive where the refs arguably helped the Bills extend their lead.

I know what everyone was thinking reading the “free yard” and “false start” arguments. “Those didn’t make a difference.” And you’re right. They didn’t. And that’s the point here. A lot of calls “technically” are errors, but they’re so fringe as to not impact the game. These three calls that favored the Bills are just the three I recalled. I’m sure I could find a few more if I really wanted to. Here’s the main point. There will always be plenty of fringe calls/no-calls. When the game is close it’s easy to remember the ones that “screwed over” your team. They didn’t. And this happens to other teams.

Also note, what I’m laying out is a bit of a rule. And rules have exceptions. Like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game.

Anyway Buffalo wound up with 9.3 Harm total, slightly better off than the Panthers.


Weekly Trackers

A few notes this week. It’s interesting that the Bills’ counts buck the league trends for the most part. Overall, the league declines over the course of the year. Buffalo dipped, went way up again, then they tapered—and now they’re going back to where they started. Even more interesting though is that the yards and harm aren’t spiking back up again at the same rate. I’d have to do a really deep stat dive to see the reason, but the best guess is the type of penalties have started drifting more toward the five-yard variety rather than ten- or 15-yarders.

Two changes in the most-wanted graphic. Levi Wallace creeps up a bit and Spencer Brown enters the conversation. That should surprise no one.