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Bills-Dolphins had a lot of penalties, but not much Harm

Some really oddball stuff went down in this game, too

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

What a wild game! The Miami Dolphins came to Orchard Park, NY to take on the Buffalo Bills with a much different environment than the last time the two teams played. Bright sun and sweltering heat was replaced by darkness and cold. And sure...that’s all good. It’s a great story (especially since Buffalo won). It’s nothing compared to the penalties, though! That’s the real intrigue this week.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Referee Bill Vinovich and crew were being brought up on social media before the game. As the crew with the lowest number of assessed flags per game, there was some thought that maybe it’d be a game without a lot of yellow laundry. AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! The teams were pretty even, and also pretty well above league average.

Penalty Yards

The True Yards columns make it look like Buffalo had way more than Miami, but I think the chart just isn’t used to everything being so level. I have the charts set up to auto-generate the graphics once the data entry is in (with the exception of opponent color coding, which changes every week). It freaked out this week with all the numbers being this close and started the scale at 42 rather than zero like it usually does. The reality is that Buffalo negated five yards of a punt return, and that was the only difference between the two teams in yardage.

Buffalo Bills Penalty Harm

I’m changing things up this week, and letting the chart do most of the heavy lifting. There are three major reasons for this spike. One; data entry with 21 penalties total is a bit of extra work, so I’m getting to the explanations a bit later than normal in the night. Two; that many flags is also a lot to talk about. Three; as you can see, the vast majority of these are boo-boos.

There’s still a few things I need to get off my chest, though. Cam Lewis is our high scorer of the day. The 15-yard roughing the kicker call also gave the Dolphins back four downs. That’s 1.5 + 4.0 Harm for his 5.5 total.

Taron Johnson’s horse collar saved a touchdown, so there’s a case to be made that it was a good penalty. The Dolphins settled for a field goal, meaning it saved four points. In a game decided by three, that’s... significant. Maybe he could have made the tackle differently and not drawn a flag but, ultimately, it was only four yards anyway, so no biggie.

Yeah, we’re gonna talk about the snowballs — first the rules, then my opinion. The rule book does allow for the super obscure “palpably unfair act” to be called for actions by non-personnel. If calling this flag, the crew can award whatever they deem equitable. The 15 yards that was tossed around as a hypothetical during the game absolutely could have happened. Also hypothetically, if a player was hit with a snowball while reaching for a catch in the end zone, the crew could also just award the score.

Now for the opinion. I saw a lot of chatter mocking the above concept and comparing it to the heat the Bills had to endure earlier in the season. I don’t think that’s a good comparison. In Miami, the heat was the fault of the sun, and the lack of shade on Buffalo’s sideline was the fault of the Dolphins. In Buffalo, the snowballs were the actions of fans. Additionally, the heat was a passive threat, whereas objects being thrown at players is an active thing.

The closest parallel to the heat in Miami was the cold in Buffalo. Temperature can be dangerous in both directions. To be fair, no one on the Dolphins wanted a penalty thrown for what was on the thermometer. That doesn’t make the lack of shade for opponents something I think is okay. The league should protect teams from any extreme elements. But the snowballs being thrown by fans is an additional layer of problem on top of nature itself. The Miami parallel would be Buffalo dealing with the sun and Floridians using mirrors to shine more of it to mess with opponents.

Rant aside, the Bills only had 9.6 Harm total, despite the high volume of flags.

Miami Dolphins Penalty Harm

Same deal here. There are too many boo-boos to worry about discussing most of these at length. If I missed one you’re interested in, drop a comment below, and I’ll see if I can accommodate your curiosity.

Of interest is the too-many-men-on-the-field flag. This was called while Buffalo was attempting a two-point conversion. It moved the Bills from the two-yard line to the one. This was the try that looked like it was going to be called no good, but ultimately awarded to Buffalo. That’s how close it was. Did the one-yard penalty lead to two points for Buffalo? There’s a case to be made there.

Cornerback Kader Kohou not only had the highest Harm of any Dolphins player, he had two flags thrown on him. Offensive guard Robert Hunt did as well, but what sets Kohou apart is that both penalties were on the same play. The defensive holding was declined only because the 21-yard defensive pass interference was the better one to leave on the record books. Either would have given the Bills two free downs, but the five yards for holding is hardly enticing given the circumstances.

Kohou’s double-foul is pretty rare, but not unheard of. In 2016, then-New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan wiped out a 90-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Julian Edelman when he committed offensive holding and pass interference on the same play. Buffalo blanked the Jacoby Brissett-led Patriots in that game.

Last but not least, we have another obscure rule to discuss. Palpably unfair acts aren’t the only time a score can be awarded as a penalty. Multiple defensive fouls in a row to try and prevent a score can lead to the refs awarding a touchdown. Miami committed multiple fouls at the end of the first half. With 26 seconds remaining and Buffalo at Miami’s 19-yard line, the Dolphins committed a defensive holding infraction, defensive offside on the next play, and then after a Bills incomplete pass, committed another defensive holding call. Three flags in four plays. My personal opinion is that they may have been pushing it a little too far, and another flag might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Weirdness aside, the Dolphins had 8.1 Harm, which is incredibly low for this many called flags.


Weekly Trackers

I don’t usually discuss the trackers, but I just have to this week. Poor Tommy Sweeney still leads the team in Harm despite only having one flag on the season. The second-most harm belongs to left tackle Dion Dawkins, who has had 11 flags thrown his way. I think this is a good case study in the need to look at multiple metrics. Is Sweeney really a bigger “problem” than Dawkins when it comes to flags? As much as I like my metric, it’s a hard sell to say he is.