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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins

A lotta laundry, but a good outcome of course

Yeah, I know. Dropping 35 points on a division rival and allowing zilch in return is pretty cool and all. But what’s REALLY important is reducing offensive holding penalties. That’s where the real football discussions start! Let’s get to it.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

When it comes to overall penalties called, the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins were neck and neck (right hand columns). There were a pair of offsetting flags, and two of the Bills’ infractions were declined. As a result, the “usual” stat of assessed count looks pretty skewed in Buffalo’s favor.

As a philosophical discussion, a primary reason to worry about true count (all called penalties) is to look at tendencies. A quick glance suggests Buffalo improved over last week’s eight flags versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. When it comes to called, they only fell from ten to nine. The Bills so far really aren’t showing any indication of changed ways.

Penalty Yards

As expected, the assessed yards pretty closely follow the counts. The Dolphins gave up a lot more yards via penalty than the Bills did. True count adds in yards negated or otherwise impacted by penalty. This week we have a penalty harm failure, which I’ll elaborate on a bit below. It’s the reason for Buffalo’s “negative” yards impacted that gives us a smaller true yards bar than assessed.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

Several of these don’t require much explanation. Dion Dawkins’s holding call was offset by one on Xavien Howard. Tre’Davious White’s defensive holding call was declined because the Dolphins preferred the 16 yards they had gained on the play to the five the flag would have granted. Justin Zimmer’s roughing call was declined due to Siran Neal’s defensive pass interference.

Speaking of which, I had a request to take a look at Zimmer’s as it felt it might have been a bad call so here it is.

The defender is allowed to make contact through their first step after the ball is released. I slowed it down frame-by-frame and I think Justin Zimmer is fine. Incidentally, this is why A.J. Epenesa was legally allowed to clobber Tua Tagovailoa. The defender isn’t allowed to flop their weight or “stuff” the QB on the way down. It’s possible that the ref thought Zimmer’s glancing (at most) contact had some extra weight but I doubt it. It seems clear Zimmer didn’t flop on Jacoby Brissett. Defenders need to be wary of the head and neck area of the QB and I think this is why the penalty was called. From behind it might be hard to see that Zimmer is pretty well at the chest, and I do believe the flag came from behind. So...yes. This is a bad call. Luckily it wasn’t assessed.

Unluckily it wasn’t assessed because Siran Neal’s defensive pass interference gave up 16 yards and two free downs (flags occurred on third down). Not that it led to a Miami score or anything though.

Darryl Williams was called for two false starts. These penalties are boring to review, with the more exotic of the pair being a mere four yards assessed or half the distance to the goal. Yawn.

Cody Ford’s holding call was also half the distance to the goal for eight yards. If you thought “four is half of eight” you’ll be delighted to be reminded that these occurred back to back with Ford’s call first. That’s just a neat fact. Ford also negated a four-yard run. On 2nd & 2, it also wiped out a first down for a total of 2.2 Harm (8 yards assessed + 4 yards negated + 1 down).

Levi Wallace was called for taunting and it’s worth another look.

To be fair, I cut the clip a little early. In addition to the incomplete pass in front of the receiver’s face, Wallace jaws a bit on the way up. It’s possible he said something truly awful that justifies the flag. More than likely though this is just another example of this year’s point of emphasis gone wrong. BOOOOOOOOOOO!

[Note: Skarekrow was flagged for taunting on that paragraph and lost 15 words]

And now to point out a failure in my metric. The Vernon Butler defensive offsides is an anomaly that seems to not be an anomaly this year as we had a similar one last week. The Dolphins earned seven on the play, but took the five-yard penalty for a net loss of two yards, making it look like a “good penalty.” From a field-position perspective that’s accurate, but it doesn’t take into account the down the team gets back. I can go into the longwinded explanation in the comments if anyone desires, but the short version is that penalty harm is supposed to be a simple system and the “fix” could complicate things further than I’d like. Instead, it’s easier to take the “L” from time to time and just be candid that my metric isn’t perfect.

The Bills racked up 9.0 Harm total, which is juuuuust on the right side of the 10.0 that’s usually a good indicator line between good and bad days.

Miami Dolphins

The false starts were definitely uninteresting here. Brandon Jones’s unnecessary roughness (late contact with Allen) was yardage only. Let’s rapid fire most of the rest...

  • Austin Jackson was called for scootin’ down the field too soon. In addition to the five yards assessed, it wiped out a 14-yard gain and a first down (from second) for 2.9 Harm.
  • Brandon Jones was also called for holding on special teams (which is the same as the offense version). It was ten assessed yards and wiped out three yards on the punt return.
  • Robert Hunt’s holding call was ten assessed and seven negated on offense.
  • The face mask call on Justin Coleman was the usual 15 yards and one free down for 2.5 Harm.
  • Emmanuel Ogbah’s call for unnecessary roughness was half the distance to the goal for eight yards and gave up a free down.

And finally we have Jacoby Brissett’s intentional grounding flag. I saw some confusion on this one and similar calls this week, and elected to take a look to make sure we could get the facts on this one straight.

I think for the most part there wasn’t much confusion on a good many aspects of the rule. The ball doesn’t make it to the line of scrimmage, but that doesn’t matter anyway as Brissett is still in the tackle box. And it’s clear there’s no eligible receiver anywhere near the spot the ball hits.

Most of the questions I saw revolved around the fact that A.J. Epenesa was draped over Brissett like a curtain. So I came up with a rhyme/song to help with the rule:

♪ Throwing then pounding, won’t get you grounding.
Contact before throwing, a down you’ll be blowing. ♪

Put in non-children’s verse, the idea is that if you start a throwing motion and then a defender makes contact the interpretation is the throw was impacted by the hit/contact. Intentional grounding isn’t called. If the defender has made contact and then you try to throw the ball it doesn’t get that same benefit so it’s a flag.

Phew. That was fun. The Dolphins as a team earned 14.7 Harm, which puts them in “bad day” territory.