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Bills and Lions face few flags during Turkey Tilt

The officiating was often frustrating, though there were few stoppages

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

The Buffalo Bills continue our new favorite Thanksgiving Day tradition — winning football games. Their 28-25 win over the Detroit Lions may have been a closer game than we preferred, but on a day focused on consumption, what’s the problem with a little nail-biting? But of course, we’re here to talk penalties. Were you a bit bothered by the officiating, like I was? Interestingly, the game had relatively few flags. It was more about the ones not called than controversy with the laundry that did hit the turf.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

It was definitely “advantage: Lions” on the flags thrown and assessed, but both teams were below the league average. At one point I was unsure if calling penalties on Detroit was allowed. The first flag tossed against them wasn’t until the third quarter.

Penalty Yards

With low counts usually comes low yards, and that’s definitely the case for Week 12. Despite the low number of flags, there’s at least a few oddities to discuss. For example, how Buffalo went down in true yards. I’ll explain that below. Detroit had zero difference between assessed and true yards, which is also weird as can be, and might be more rare than what Buffalo did.

Penalty Harm

Detroit Lions

As usual, there’s no reason to discuss the false start, and Jerry Jacobs’ illegal contact was declined due to Josh Allen and Gabe Davis connecting for 16 yards on a 3rd & 13 play. That doesn’t leave us much to discuss.

Jacobs was also called for defensive pass interference. It was assessed at 19 yards and gave up two free downs for a Harm rating of 3.9 in all. Let’s take a look, because I have an axe to grind.

Now, I don’t hate this as a flag, but I also don’t love it. I think Jacobs is attempting to play the ball, though he does turn Stefon Diggs. And I suppose I don’t mind that it helped Buffalo. Being fair, though, this one has at least a little wiggle room to defend as a non-call, whereas there were other instances of contact that weren’t called in my estimation — including a very obvious Lions defender playing though the back of a Bills receiver. Or in other words, if you were a bit frustrated with some of the non-calls, then I was right there with you.

Finally, our roughing the passer on Austin Bryant was similar in that I get it, but it wasn’t all that brutal. It moved the ball half the distance to the goal for eight yards, and gave up one free down.

The Lions had a scant 6.2 Harm on the day, which seems pretty much in line with their low count and yards.

Buffalo Bills

Boogie Basham’s neutral zone was yardage only, and not much to talk about. Similarly, Greg Van Roten’s holding call was declined, as it was third down and Allen’s pass to Diggs fell incomplete. Taron Johnson’s DPI was yardage only, and also kinda crap.

Sure, there’s some contact, but literally the only way that pass is caught is for the receiver to commit offensive pass interference.

Rodger Saffold’s holding call wiped out a one-yard run by Allen. That leaves us with two interesting penalties to discuss.

The too-many-men-on-the-field penalty illustrates a weakness with my calculations. I relate harm to the change in down between the play and after the penalty is assessed. In the case of this flag, it’s first down to first down. The Lions had gained six yards on the play, but accepted the penalty. That means the Lions lost a yard between the flag and the play result. It’s the right choice, though, as it’s between 2nd & 4 (decline) or 1st & 5 (accept) with only one yard difference. The down matters. The usual Harm calculation doesn’t count it as a “gain” for the Lions, and thus only the one yard impacted is counted.

Last but not least, our most harmful flag of the day went to defensive tackle Tim Settle in yet another anomaly in the formula. On 4th & 1, Jared Goff gained one yard to earn the first down. The Lions accepted the three-yard, offsides however. Remember, I assess the flag from the down the flag occurred on, which was fourth. That means that according to the formula, Settle gave up three free downs, which is the bulk of the Harm rating here. In reality, Detroit had the first down either way, and Settle’s real harm was two yards closer to the goal line.

The Bills had 6.0 Harm against Detroit, which is closer to where they’ve been floating all year after a couple of bad games.

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