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Bills vs. Giants penalty recap: Lots to discuss

25 total penalties called is not great

Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Don’t worry data lovers, the usual charts and formulas are below. For this week, though, I’m going to start with some overall opinions and keep the discussion on the individual flags a little light. Feel free as always to ask about particulars I didn’t get to in the comments.

The Buffalo Bills and New York Giants combined for a total of 25 flags thrown. That’s wild, but what’s even more wild is that I saw fans on both sides asking for extra flags pretty routinely here. The refs didn’t have the best game ever, but it was a far cry from the disaster I often heard was unfolding. Let’s talk about a few things. But first let’s bask in the falsest start of all time.

Bills fans felt there should have been two early defensive pass interference calls. I think the first one should have been called. It wasn’t egregious but the defender trips, reaches out, and trips the receiver. That’s a flag. On the second, the pair get tangled while running. Both are playing the ball. Good no-call.

Giants fans wanted a defensive pass interference call on the final play of the game. Bills fans wanted the hand to the face called. Both could have been called, but I like the no-call and not just because I’m a Bills fan. I’ve said this a few times over the years but bear with me again. Contact is NOT prohibited. The rules say it’s interference if the act “significantly hinders” the ability to make a catch. That didn’t happen.

Finally, on my opinion-laden starting rant, I’ve seen a number of people lament that one Bills flag offset three Giants flags. Personally, I think the rule is good (not perfect) as is. Pretty much the only time this comes up is team fight situations like we saw this week. It’s easy to lose sight of everyone involved, so it’s rarely going to be the case where it’s really lopsided on what team was “worse.” Quarterback Josh Allen should have been flagged for instance. In fact I’m calling it now, I think he’ll be fined with the rest of the group. That means we all know it was really a 3 v. 2 situation, and I’m betting if we scour the film those numbers climb.

Further, penalizing only one team after a charged moment like that can add fuel to the fire as the team that benefits may be tempted to rub salt in the wounds. A “nana nana boo boo” dilemma if you will. Finally, if singular players do something egregious, we’ve seen disqualifications result from situations like this, so there are teeth in the rules aside from one team losing a chunk of yardage.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Count

The Bills come in above league average but not incredibly so — especially with flags that counted, as the refs try not to call 0.23 of a penalty. The Giants were more comfortably above average for regular count, but thanks to an absurd amount of offset and declined, their true count was through the roof.

Penalty Yards

The assessed yards play out about as expected. The Bills are hovering right at average and the Giants are a bit above. True yards add in yards impacted by penalty — negated plays and the like. The Bills barely change. The Giants on the other hand have some explaining to do — though it’ll actually be me explaining it in a few seconds.

Penalty Harm

New York Giants

If you’re curious enough to read about penalties, you’re likely well versed in most of these. To save some time, I’ll only discuss three.

Offensive tackle Evan Neal was called for an ineligible downfield pass. Before I do the formula, I just want to say it feels like the NFL has called way more of these than usual. I might have to look into that idea. The flag occurred on first down and was assessed at five yards. It wiped out a 43-yard gain. That’s 48 total yards that flipped the field in the wrong direction for 4.8 Harm.

The roughing-the-passer call on linebacker Bobby Okereke was only the assessed yards, but the Harm rating doesn’t capture this one very well. Buffalo was faced with 1st & 25 after two flags of their own. Okereke bailed them out, as the incomplete pass would have made it 2nd & 25. Though to be fair, cornerback Cor’Dale Flott would have done it if Okereke hadn’t. His illegal-hands-to-the-face flag would have also done the trick.

The Giants had 14.3 Harm total. That’s moderately above the 10.0 threshold we use to define a bad day, which isn’t terrible considering the high volume.

Buffalo Bills

Let’s run through the formula a few times for fun. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver’s unnecessary roughness flag was a weird calculation all around. Linebacker Terrell Bernard had tackled running back Saquon Barkley for a loss of two. That pushed the Giants to the Buffalo 18. The flag was therefore assessed at half-the-distance-to-the-goal for nine yards. The flag also negated the two-yard tackle for loss. The play occurred on second down and gave up a free first. That’s 9 yards + 2 yards + 1 down, or 0.9 + 0.2 + 1.0 = 2.1 Harm.

Cornerback Kaiir Elam was the first Bills player to give the Giants the ball at the one thanks to defensive pass interference. Elam’s was nine yards and one free down for 1.9 Harm.

I struggled a bit for the one on Terrell Bernard. It occurred on third down, so technically it gave up two downs by resetting to first. But the clock was at zero, so it really only gave one. In the end I stayed true to the formula and assessed it as two downs for Harm. Those plus the eight yard flag led to 2.8 Harm.

The Bills had 9.3 Harm, which squeaks in as a good day.