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Bills struggle with penalties in win over Browns

It was exactly as “not pretty” as you likely thought

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

On the one hand, the Buffalo Bills pulled out of their slump in the second half against the Cleveland Browns to come up with a convincing 31-23 win in a trying week. On the other hand, it was a very bad game penalty-wise, and what’s more important in the grand scheme of things? Before you ask in the comments, the answer is “yes”—the refs were kind of terrible in this game.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

When it comes to the total flags called (True Count), it’s an incredibly lopsided affair. A little less so when it comes to assessed, but Buffalo is still on the wrong side of things. The league averages remain pretty stable.

Penalty Yards

This is, uh... quite the chart. This is extraordinarily lopsided in favor of the Browns. In both measures, the Bills more than doubled the yardage output of Cleveland. That’s usually a good thing, but not when it comes to penalties.

Penalty Harm

Cleveland Browns

Due to the high volume of flags, we’ll just focus on a few, starting with Kareem Hunt’s offensive holding. The flag was assessed at half the distance to the goal for seven yards. It also negated a 13-yard play on 3rd & 6 for two negated downs. For the formula, that’s 0.7 for assessed yards + 1.3 for the negated yards + 2.0 for the negated downs for 4.0 Harm.

Now, when I say the refs had a bad game, note that I’m not saying a biased one. The roughing-the-passer call on Tommy Togiai is presented as Exhibit A.

The GIF does the heavy lifting, and there is a case for a flag based on the second angle. It’s by no means the worst call I’ve ever seen, but Josh Allen falls mainly due to contact with his teammate, and Togiai only “flops” on Allen due to a stumble. The contact to the neck area doesn’t look all that forcible, either.

It’s not the worst call, but if the refs were biased against Buffalo, this would easily be able to be defended as a no-call. Further, there was a blatant assisting-the-runner penalty late in the game where Spencer Brown helped pull Devin Singletary. It wasn’t called, meaning the refs missed a 10-yard flag on Buffalo.

Getting off my soapbox a bit, this one is just an interesting wrinkle in the rules, and I wanted to talk about it a bit. Here’s Amari Cooper with an illegal-touch penalty.

I would like a better angle, but ultimately will trust the ref here. I had to scour the rule book, and essentially the way the crew called it was nearly quoting it. Illegally touching a forward pass in this manner is a five-yard flag and loss of down. For the formula, on a two-point try the line of scrimmage doesn’t actually move, so I didn’t assess any yardage. I did, however, count the loss of down, as it negated the chance to try again. I also assessed the lost points, as Cooper cost his team two points. All told, that’s 3.0 Harm for the flag.

The Browns amassed 10.5 Harm throughout the game, which is a bit rocky, but nothing major.

Buffalo Bills

We’ll skip a lot of these as well. For the declined/offset ones...

A Stefon Diggs OPI was declined, as it was an incomplete pass on third down and the Browns didn’t want to give the Bills another chance. A Christian Benford DPI was declined as it gave Cleveland fewer yards than did the face mask by Dane Jackson on the same play. Dion Dawkins’ illegal shift offset with a too-many-men-on-the-field flag.

On 3rd & 12, Allen scrambled for 19 yards. Rodger Saffold was called for holding. With 10 assessed yards, 19 negated, and two negated downs, it was our worst flag of the day for either side at 4.9 Harm.

A holding call on Reggie Gilliam wiped out a 13-yard run by Singletary. The play came on first down, and therefore did not negate any downs gained. It was also a bad call, in my humble opinion, as it looked to me that the defender’s own momentum carried him to the ground.

The worst call of the day was this one. The 3.6 Harm for Damar Hamlin’s defensive-pass-interference flag was all assessed yards (36 of them). There are seven examples of what constitutes pass interference. I won’t list them all, as the short version is that I don’t think Hamlin did any of the seven.

After setting a new season-high in Harm last week, the Bills did it again with 15.1 Harm total in this game. Yet more evidence that penalties aren’t inherently correlated with winning and losing.

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