As football fans we can be pretty rigid with our traditions and football routines. When I took my first Wingin’ It pictures of the season it hit me that football was really back. Now that I’m penning (electronically) the first full penalty recap of the year I’m officially back in the groove. The Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams, and Carl Cheffers’s officiating crew all elected to take it easy on me to start the year, so let’s dive in and crunch some nerdy penalty numbers.
Standard and Advanced Metrics
The numbers don’t take much interpretation here. The Bills had five penalties assessed, the Rams had four. Neither team had declined or offset flags, so the True Count doesn’t change for either team. They’re also both below league average.
Speaking of league average, as we see every season, the starting point for the year is higher than the average of the prior season. In 2021, teams averaged 5.86 flags per game—or roughly half a penalty per team less than our Week 1 starting point. This is almost certainly going to come down.
This basically just mirrors the counts. Both teams were under the league average. Neither team altered any yardage beyond assessed so again, both sets of columns match. The 2021 league average was 50.41 yards per team, and like the counts, the Week 1 league average is likely higher than what we’ll see across the season.
For any newcomers, there’s no league average for True Yards because the league and I track this differently and there’s no easy way for me to create a league average. The general idea is that teams can negate or alter yardage beyond the assessed. For instance, if an offensive holding call wiped out a 13-yard gain, the True Yards would add in the wiped out yards.
Los Angeles Rams
One more explainer for any new readers. Penalty Harm is a proprietary statistic that serves as a sort of red flag system for all the yellow flags. The numbers aren’t absolute so a 2.0 Harm rating isn’t twice as bad as a 1.0 Harm one, but should be more likely to be something that impacted the outcome of the game and/or warrant further discussion.
I’ll explain some of the formula as we go along, but the concept is that impacted yards, downs, negated points, and more are tallied into the Harm rating. This can help us separate more impactful penalties. As an example, two offensive holding calls assessed at ten yards each would go down on the usual stats as identical calls. If one wiped out a 30-yard gain for a touchdown though, we might want to consider that it was a worse penalty than one that occurred on an incomplete pass. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Hope you liked the explainer because the Rams were as boring as it gets. They were flagged for two false starts, which I almost never discuss as they’re pre-snap flags that don’t have any features aside from assessed yards. The defensive too-many-men-on-the-field penalty was pretty much the same story.
The closest one to interesting was the horse collar tackle by Justin Hollins. It was tacked on at the end of a first-down play, so assessed yards only. Every yard (assessed or negated) counts as 0.1 Harm so a 15-yard flag = 1.5 Harm.
The Rams had 3.0 Harm total for the game, which we’ll discuss in a moment.
Buffalo wasn’t a whole lot more interesting. Rodger Saffold and Spencer Brown were called for false starts, which are like Bruno in that we don’t talk about them. The difference is that I don’t have a choreographed song about false starts to avoid conversation. Maybe next season.
Dane Jackson was flagged for taunting after Boogie Basham tipped a pass to himself. It was after the play, so everything counted and was assessed yards only. Was it justified?
Probably. Who knows what he was saying (if anything). There’s not much reason to stand over Matthew Stafford like that though with the play being well and truly over already.
Jordan Phillips was called for defensive holding, which COULD have been interesting as it comes with an automatic first down. This one came on a first down so the automatic was meaningless, making this also an assessed yardage penalty only.
The only one that required extra calculation was Taron Johnson’s defensive holding call. This one came on third down. That means the automatic first down gave the Rams two free downs to work with. Downs are assessed at 1.0 Harm each. So that’s Downs Given + Assessed Yards = Harm. Or 2.0 + 0.5 = 2.5 Harm. This is a good one to flag for our purposes as it came on a 3rd & 10 incomplete pass that likely would have ended the Rams’ field goal drive. Let’s take a look at this one too.
Buffalo had 5.5 Harm total. After doing this for several years now, the rule of thumb is that 10.0 Harm is a decent cutoff between a good and bad day. That means both teams had a really good day.