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Bills 23, Ravens 20: penalty recap

We take an in-depth look at one very controversial call

Tennessee Titans v Buffalo Bills Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

What a crazy game that was in Baltimore! A lot of factors came into play that allowed the Buffalo Bills to secure a last-second win against the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Josh Allen doing Josh Allen things. The defense dominating in classic fashion. Oh, and yeah, maybe even penalties played a part. Let’s find out!

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

This is pretty straightforward. When it comes to assessed penalties, the Ravens had over twice as many as the Bills. With zero declined flags for Buffalo and two for Baltimore, the gap nearly grows to triple when it comes to total flags called aka the “True Count.”

The league averages ticked slightly up this week, which isn’t unheard of. Overall flags decrease as the year progresses but an occasional backslide does happen.

Penalty Yards

For yards, it’s a near match with the counts. This was a very lopsided contest when it comes to penalties, with Buffalo on the right side of things (at least from our perspective).

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

Overall, this is a pretty boring list of flags. Left tackle Dion Dawkins was called for a false start, and cornerback Taron Johnson was called for defensive holding. Both were assessed yards only.

Both players were also levied with second penalties. For Dawkins that was a facemask after Josh Allen’s interception. It was assessed at half the distance to the goal and in the end not very consequential.

Johnson’s second flag was for defensive pass interference. It was called 17 yards down the field and gave up a first down from second, for a total of 2.7 Harm.

The Bills had a mere 4.1 Harm total during the game—well below our 10.0 cutoff for a “bad” game.

Baltimore Ravens

This is a lot more interesting. Feel free to ask me questions on specific flags below in the comments that I don’t cover, as 11 is quite a bit to do one-by-one. I’ll focus on just a few points for the sake of an efficient recap.

My first point is that the answer is “yes,” there should have been MORE flags called on the Ravens as a few things went missed. Buffalo got away with a few missed penalties too, for the record.

We always spend some time on our worst offender of the game, and that belongs to tight end Mark Andrews and his offensive pass interference. Andrews’s flag was assessed for 10 yards, wiped out an 11-yard catch he had made, and negated a first down on 3rd & 6. Remember that the point of penalty harm is to add a red flag to the yellow flags that have a higher chance of impacting the outcome of the game.

Prior to the penalty, Andrews ended up at the Buffalo one-yard line with a first down. The flag pushed the Ravens back to 3rd & 16 and the offense couldn’t convert, settling instead for a field goal. This flag represented a potential four-point swing.

Finally we have the controversial roughing-the-passer called on cornerback Brandon Stephens. Let’s take a look. I tried to view every angle I could on this one.

Unfortunately, there’s only one good angle for why I think this was called a penalty. Incidentally, this GIF doesn’t have a clean shot of Stephens’s feet because I wanted to show the impact all the way through. I have a decent clip of the feet below that shows Stephens making contact with his first step—meaning this wasn’t a late hit.

Stephens doesn’t land on Josh Allen, and even turns to the side to specifically avoid that situation. So it’s not a late hit and it’s not stuffing the QB. The only logical path remaining is that he forcibly hit Allen in the head or neck area with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder. Let’s dissect that notion.

His forearms are clearly out with the wrapped tackle. Stephens’s shoulder level is at Allen’s abdomen so I don’t think he hit him in the head area with his shoulder. I pause where I do because this is the point of impact and Allen’s head has NOT snapped back. Neither does Stephens’s head, and I can’t find any evidence there was contact with the helmet.

Right after the pause, Allen whips his head back a bit but with no seeming cause. Yeah, that’s right. I’m saying Allen sold the hit to make it look like a roughing call. I don’t love this tactic but I also don’t condemn it. A little acting is to be expected in all contests.

I will, however, echo a thought I saw on social media. I forget who said this, but I know for sure it wasn’t my original thought. With the attention on concussions after the mishandling of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, it’s worth noting that officials and the spotter the league employs can pull a player off the field if they suspect a strong blow to the head occurred. Allen might want to be careful about being too convincing or he may find himself in the blue tent at a critical moment.

Now here’s the picture of feet I promised.

Despite a high count, Baltimore only amassed 10.8 Harm total—barely nudging over the line for a bad game. We’re not quite done this week...

Weekly Trackers

I didn’t forget the weekly tracking information. I was just waiting for a few weeks to pass for it to become meaningful. This will graph will expand every week, and soon enough I’ll also add the “Most Wanted” chart.