Well that sucked. The final score sucked. The final outcome of most Buffalo Bills offensive drives in Week 5 sucked. The fourth-quarter defense sucked. The injuries really sucked. Trevor Lawrence still has nice hair. The 3-2 record sucks. I could go on. But we’re here to talk about penalties. Oh wait, that sucked too. I’ll answer most of your questions right now so you can skip the data and explanations and just jump right to the comments to yell at me.
While the penalties were numerous and harmful, the refs overall called a good game. The thrown flags were not bad calls. I’ll have more specifics, but there was only one flag on Buffalo that I felt shouldn’t have been thrown.
Standard and Advanced Metrics
The league averages started to tick back down this week as expected. That’s despite the Bills and Jaguars trying to reverse that trend with a single game. Neither team did well and the Bills were flat-out awful. I’ll keep this short as there’s a lot to discuss down below (which I will also attempt to cut short).
The yards are decent mirrors of the counts. The Jaguars being only slightly above league average does suggest that they leaned toward minor flags — which we’ll see the truth of below. The Bills’ yardage suggests the opposite, with lots of heavy-duty flags. It’s never good to exceed the length of the field in penalty yards, in case anyone was curious.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before I hit some of these rapid fire. The Jaguars deserved every penalty ever because they’re not our team. What I mean by that is that, for the most part, I did not go back and look at many of these out of time considerations. The truth is that I really don’t think someone reading this on a Bills blog will care if the refs were flag happy on the opposition, so I spent more time looking at Buffalo’s penalties.
As would be suggested by the yards above, most of these are boo-boos. Some flags were mitigated for various reasons — like being half the distance to the goal. If a play has zero harm, it was declined.
The false start by tight end Brenton Strange was only four yards due to a rounding error in the play-by-play that sometimes occurs. The reality is that the refs spot the ball as precisely as possible (that’s how “4th & Inches” is a thing). But the stat trackers writing the play-by-play need to write a whole yard number down. Once in awhile the before and after of a flag ends up odd as a result. It is not due to the refs erroneously spotting the ball.
Edge rusher Josh Allen was flagged for roughing the passer (quarterback Josh Allen). This wiped out a sack for 12 yards in addition to the nine assessed for half the distance to the goal. It gave up a first down from third. Instead of 4th & 13 at the Jacksonville 30-yard line, it became 1st & Goal at the nine. That’s 9 yards + 12 yards + 2 downs. Or 0.9 + 1.2 + 2.0 = 4.1 Harm — the worst Jaguars flag of the day.
Offensive tackle Anton Harrison was hit for two major flags. The first was a holding call on second down that wiped our a 17-yard gain that would have gained a first down. That’s 10 yards + 17 yards + 1 down or 3.7 Harm. He also scooted down the field early later in the game. That flag wiped out a 19-yard gain and a first down from second like above. The math on that works out to 3.4 Harm.
All told, the Jaguars wound up with 14.5 Harm, which is comfortably above our bad day cutoff of 10.0 Harm. Before we get to Buffalo though, let’s do at least one GIF from this game.
This will save me discussing one of offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence’s holding calls below. It’s pretty clear he twists and tackles, and this is a legitimate flag. Live, I felt the bump at the end by Josh Allen on Josh Allen should have been called. Looking at it again, the refs got it right. Jaguars Josh Allen is trying to pull up, braces with his hands, and Bills Josh Allen tries to sell it as forcible even though it’s not.
Where to even START with this? I’m going to run through one formula, the Stefon Diggs offensive pass interference and from there I’ll run through every major flag on Buffalo and discuss whether or not it was “legit” by the refs. I saw a lot of complaints about the officiating this week and felt it would be best to see if the refs were bad or whether it was the Bills.
First off, the Stefon Diggs OPI is the one flag I don’t like and it had the highest Harm rating by far. It wiped out a touchdown, and nine yards gained in addition to the ten assessed. That’s 7.0 + 0.9 + 1.0 = 8.9 Harm. Now, I don’t like the flag, but I also don’t hate it. On the re-watch it looks clear that Diggs was trying to run a route and there wasn’t much contact. That said, he did create contact with a defender, which caused a little change in how they were moving so it’s not a terrible flag either. It was the worst one of the day in my opinion and I can’t go so far as to say it was a botched call, just a nit-picky one. Now for the rest...
Defensive tackle Ed Oliver had an illegal-hands-to-the-face and a roughing-the-passer flag early on. The hands to the face was an obvious and easy call. The roughing call seems pretty straightforward as well, with a noticeable pop to quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s face mask.
Linebacker Dorian Williams jammed a receiver about eight yards downfield for an easy illegal contact call.
Wide receiver Trent Sherfield’s illegal block in the back was clear as day. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich blew up his man on the same play and sent them to the ground for another pretty easy call for unnecessary roughness. I don’t think it was dirty mind you, but at full speed sometimes a special teams play can be overzealous — and I think that applies here.
Left guard Connor McGovern and left tackle Dion Dawkins were both flagged for holding somewhat late in the game. Neither were egregious but both created a visible twist/turn of the defender. McGovern’s man went to the ground, which made that one have the ref’s full attention. Dawkins looks like he let go just a hair late. This was a close second to the Diggs call above. I don’t love this call, but I certainly see it. In real time I can’t blame the official whatsoever.
Cornerback Taron Johnson slipped in coverage, grabbed, and pulled his man down. Easy defensive pass interference call.
We saw the one by Torrence above. His second was just as obvious. As he was falling down, he pulled the defender with him. That’ll be called 10 times out of 10.
Last but not least is the unnecessary roughness call on safety Jordan Poyer. Receiver in the process of trying to make a catch? Check. Blow to the head or neck area with forearm, shoulder, or helmet? Check. The hit was forcible? Also check. Everyone say it with me. “Strict liability.”
Jordan Poyer is NOT a dirty player. There is very little he could have done differently on this play. NONE of that matters. Receivers making a catch are protected from hits like these. That’s it. That’s the whole story. Linebacker Chad Muma was flagged for the exact same thing during the game on the other side of the fence.
I already partially answered it, but I often hear “What’s the defender supposed to do there?” You won’t like the more complete answer. What’s he supposed to do? Suck it up and accept that this particular rule can be broken due to nothing more than physics. These are going to happen from time to time. I’m not asking you to LIKE the rule, but that’s how it’s written. That’s how it’s enforced.
The Bills racked up 25.9 Harm on Sunday. It’s not a record, but it was close enough to make me break out my record list to see how far they were from establishing a new mark. Our current record for a single game Harm is still the 2021 game against the Denver Broncos where Buffalo negated touchdowns on three different penalties.