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Bills at Patriots penalty recap: Plenty of yellow to go around

The Buffalo Bills had a rough game in all facets, including penalties

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

Well. That was a ****show. I still love you Buffalo Bills, but this one hurt a lot like some drought-era games. Specifically, the point in each season when it was confirmed the drought would live on. I’m not saying the Bills are missing the playoffs (yet), but that’s the kind of gut punch yesterday’s loss handed out. With that emotional reaction laid out and the excuse that I’m still getting my new computer broken in, I’ll just say the following:

I don’t think the refs had the greatest game. I’m with a lot of the fans there. I think it cut both ways though. Also, while even I think there are a couple legitimate gripes with Clete Blakeman and company, if I were assigning blame for the outcome I would be pointing most of my fingers at the Bills who could have easily overcome any shoddy officiating with, well... perhaps, anything remotely resembling the team we’ve seen the last few years. Okay, fine. Let’s talk penalties I guess. Whatever.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Count

The Buffalo Bills started off the season doing pretty well avoiding flags, but it’s picked up in recent weeks as part of their streak of overall poor play. Would Rex Ryan’s wrist bands help? They might. I did splits on flags that year and Ryan’s measures (which also included pushes) did reduce the flag count. McDermott’s teams have historically had a lot of yellow laundry, so this feels more normal for nerds like me. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. The only consolation on this graphic is that the New England Patriots were just about as bad.

Penalty Yards

When you’re comfortably above in counts like Buffalo was, it’s remarkable to be roughly a false start below the average in yards. New England is closer to expectation between count and yards. Both teams negated similar yards via flag to reach their true yards.

Penalty Harm

New England Patriots

There are a fair few not worth mentioning as they were yardage only (delay, neutral zone, illegal contacts, defensive holding, even the roughing call on Jones). The false start on safety Brenden Schooler wasn’t half the distance to the goal or anything — this is that weird rounding error that occurs on play-by-plays. I could correct these to the five yards the refs actually move the ball, but this is a math post and rounding errors are fun math quirks... so let me have my fun.

That leaves two to run the formula with. The roughing call on defensive tackle Christian Barmore occurred on second down. In addition to the 15 yards, it gave the Bills one free down. For those of you new to the idea of Harm, yards count as 0.1 Harm and downs count as 1.0 Harm. So that’s 1.5 for the yards, and 1.0 for the down — for a harm rating of 2.5.

Wait a minute Skare, wasn’t the ineligible player downfield on a pass picked up? The second one was. The one on offensive tackle Vederian Lowe was assessed. The flag itself only counts as five yards, but it wiped out a 22-yard gain.

Now about that “other” flag. Should it have been picked up? Let’s take a peek and then discuss.

I’m a big fan of gray area calls staying with what’s called on the field. I’m willing to accept that the refs are imperfect and that some plays can be too close to call. Hold that thought for a second. I looked through the usual resources on this one and couldn’t find the clarification I need to be definitive on the call in this space.

Ineligible players like center James Andrews here cannot move more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage before the pass has been thrown. At the pause, the ball is definitively released. Andrews’ heel is behind the line he can’t cross. Barely. Is this like an illegal forward pass, where the entire player needs to be beyond the line? Or is it like neutral zone infractions/offside where any part of the player past the line counts? There was one on the New York Giants last week where the player’s left hand seemed to be at the line and the flag was thrown, so I think it’s the latter — but I can’t be sure. Regardless...

I had to go frame-by-frame and found a heel that maybe makes this a good no-call. Maybe. Remember that thought I asked you to hold onto? If I have to dissect this frame-by-frame and come up with a “maybe,” then I don’t like picking up the flag. At all.

The Patriots had 9.1 Harm total, which is a little under our bad day threshold of 10.0 Harm.

Buffalo Bills

Most of these were inconsequential and honestly who wants to talk more about the Bills’ negatives this week? One fun thing with cornerback Christian Benford; I’ve debated removing the penalty count bar for years now, but every once in awhile a player justifies it. Like Benford did by having two defensive-pass-interference calls in one game. One was a single yard (on the two-point try) and the other was for six yards on a six-yard completion.

It’s time to level with the longtime readers. I’ve known for ages that technically there’s such a thing as “offensive offside” and that the thing I’ve just called “offside” was technically called “defensive offside.” It’s so rare to have the offensive version that I figured my shortcut was okay. And I still think it’s okay. I just added an “O” for right guard O’Cyrus Torrence on this incredibly rare flag (there were three all last season, and four this year so far). Was he actually offside? I won’t know until the All-22 comes out and by then I may not care. Here’s a look from the end zone angle, which is the definition of “inconclusive.”

The three points in his three-point stance seem to line up here with left guard Connor McGovern. They’re both listed as 6’5”, so this angle suggests that he’s fine. CBS elected to pass up giving us another angle on replay. It counted though in game, so here’s the formula. Remember that rounding error above? It happened here as well. On the play-by-play it was called as four yards. It wiped out a two-yard gain by Allen and the two downs the Bills should have gained. That’s 0.4 + 0.2 + 2.0 = 2.6 Harm.

Tight end Dalton Kincaid was flagged for offensive holding for 10 yards. No rounding errors. It wiped out a 7-yard gain and a down for 2.7 total Harm.

Taron Johnson’s illegal contact occurred on third down (never good) and gave up two free downs in addition to the five yards. It also negated a six-yard sack. That’s 5 yards + 6 yards + 2 downs or 0.5 + 0.6 + 2.0 = 3.1 Harm.

Last but certainly not least was this one on Latavius Murray:

This is the right call. The line of scrimmage is the eight-yard line. That means defenders can initiate contact all the way to the three. The offense has more strict guidelines when it comes to contact, so the broadcast team was right. The liability for the contact is technically on Murray, so he gets the flag. That said, this is not egregious, in my opinion, as Murray does seem to actually be running a route.

If you stuck around this crap fest this long you deserve the formula. This was on 3rd & 7 and tight end Dawson Knox scored a touchdown on the play. The flag itself was called for 10 yards. Negated points are a 1:1 ratio with Harm. In the case of touchdowns, the extra point is considered a given, so negated TDs are worth 7.0 Harm. So we’re up to 8.0 already. In the case of negated TDs, there’s always a chance for a spot foul, etc. so I count the yards as well. There were eight of those. Remember it was 3rd & 7, which means a first down was technically possible with a spot foul or if the ball was caught short of the goal line. So I count the two negated downs as well. That’s another 0.8 for the yards and 2.0 for the downs for a total of 10.8 Harm.

For the new readers, Harm is not a direct tally of how a flag impacted the game. It’s a red-flag system where the higher numbers mean “LOOK AT ME!” and have a higher potential to impact a game. The Bills didn’t make up this touchdown, settling for three points. This flag cost them four. How many did the Bills lose by?

Buffalo had 20.8 Harm in total, which is way higher than our bad threshold. But you likely figured that already.