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Penalty Recap: Bills vs. Vikings also ugly on the flag front

Was Sunday the highest Harm rating for Buffalo this season?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The bad news is the Buffalo Bills lost. The good news is that if you watch football to be entertained, Buffalo’s 33-30 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings was one of the least boring games I’ve ever seen.

But this is the penalty recap, and there’s only one entertainment value we care about here. The answer is “yes.” There’s some infraction intrigue this week.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Let’s begin a journey where I’ll repeatedly indicate there was statistically little difference between the two teams’ performance. I suppose that’s a lot like many of the non-penalty aspects of the game as well. Buffalo did have one declined penalty—a holding flag on center Mitch Morse that wasn’t as bad for the Bills as the sack was. Aside from that, mostly average and so far nearly identical results.

Penalty Yards

I told you—not much difference here either. The very small difference between the two teams now flips to the Vikings and negating three yards more than the Bills did. The refs called it identical on the field.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

Will the Harm be really close too? I mean, I already hinted that would be the case, but let’s check in on a few things. I already covered the Morse flag, and the false starts are as boring as they usually are, so let’s begin with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips’ offside call. The Vikings were so close to the goal line that even though the flag was assessed it wasn’t enough to be counted as anything.

Rookie cornerback Christian Benford and right tackle Spencer Brown both had rough penalty days. Benford spiced things up by getting called for two different flags. His unnecessary roughness was for a little extra business after wide receiver Adam Thielen was out of bounds. It was assessed yards only. The defensive pass interference was for 19 assessed yards and occurred on second down, giving up one free down.

Brown was called for holding twice, wiping out gains by running back Devin Singletary and quarterback Josh Allen. The Singletary carry was nine yards on 1st & 10, making the formula 10 assessed yards + 9 negated for 1.9 Harm. On Allen’s scramble, it was 3rd & 5 and Allen gained seven. That makes it 10 assessed + 7 negated + 2 downs for 3.7 Harm.

Buffalo had 11.0 Harm, which is barely on the wrong side of our cutoff of 10.0 for a “bad day.” Ready to be shocked? That’s Buffalo’s worst Harm performance so far this year. Ready for more shock? The second-worst game landed at 7.5 Harm.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings made things interesting but, cutting to the chase, they landed at 12.3 Harm total. That’s not the worst opponent rating of the season (third worst), and again not all that different than Buffalo’s day. In addition to the false start I won’t go into detail about, the ineligible downfield kick flag was only the assessed yards and no big deal. Cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.’s defensive pass interference call was assessed yards only (14 of them).

I had to look up the horse collar rules thanks to linebacker Eric Kendricks. I knew they had expanded what was going to be called, but apparently this was the right decision by the refs. From the rule book (emphasis mine):

No player shall grab the inside collar of the back or the side of the shoulder pads or jersey

Offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw’s holding call was the highest-rated flag of the day by either team. In addition to the ten assessed yards, it negated 19, and two downs. Similarly, linebacker Za’Darius Smith gave up two downs to Buffalo with a neutral-zone infraction on 3rd & 5.

Last but not least, let’s have our lone GIF of the game (I’m too sad to make more of them). Tight end T.J. Hockenson’s offensive pass interference is not accurately reflected via its Harm rating. I’m (straw)man enough to admit when my metrics fail. Hockenson’s was the rare “good” flag. Let’s take a look.

I’d have to look at the coaches film to judge quarterback Kirk Cousins completely, so let’s not worry about whether he should have thrown this toward Hockenson. He did, and that’s the important thing. If defensive back Cam Lewis is even a touch later, Hockenson has the ability to cut underneath the defensive back and make the touchdown catch.

Lewis plays this to perfection, though. Hockenson can’t even attempt to play the ball with how much better Lewis is in position to make the catch. The only thing he can do is restrict Lewis from making the very easy interception. Yeah, it cost them ten yards, but it didn’t give up the drive.

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