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Penalty Talk: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills — Preseason, Week 1

Not the full rundown

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

For regular Rumblers, you all know me as the penalty guy and there’s not much introduction needed. We might have some new Buffalo Bills fans though and I uh... suppose that last sentence establishes me as the penalty guy. And the headline I suppose. Hi.

During the regular season I use a proprietary stat called “Harm” that assigns a weighted value to penalties based on factors like lost yards, negated yards, negated downs, points, and a few other things. This won’t be the complete breakdown with all the stats and nerdiness, but I will prep for the regular season with some references to the Harm formula and general penalty discussion for the first week of 2023 NFL preseason football!

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts were assessed four flags, which isn’t too bad at all. However, those four penalties were good for 48 yards or an average of 12 yards per flag. That suggests they avoided procedural penalties in exchange for some doozies.

Indianapolis started off with a flag right away, with linebacker Segun Olubi called for holding on the opening kickoff. That flag was good for half-the-distance to the goal from the 16. That makes it an eight-yard flag with nothing more to the story.

Later in the first quarter, tight end Pharaoh Brown was called for offensive holding — assessed at 10 yards. Quarterback Anthony Richardson had run for seven, and Brown’s penalty was a spot-of-the-foul type. Richardson was credited with two of his seven, meaning Brown negated five. For those of you new to the idea of Harm, negated yards are counted the same as assessed — meaning this flag actually cost Indy 15 yards.

Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo was called for defensive offside. That cost five yards, didn’t award the Bills a first down and was overall pretty “meh” as far as flags go.

Safety Aaron Maddox had a costly defensive pass interference call in the fourth quarter on a deep pass to wide receiver Tyrell Shavers. The flag was good for 25 yards, but at least came on first down. For the record, live and during my rewatch, I felt this flag was ticky-tack.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills had eight flags, twice that of the Colts. However they only had 59 yards, barely more than a single offensive holding flag difference. For the sake of brevity, I won’t discuss any boo-boo type flags like false start here. But if you’re curious on something I left out, ask away in the comments. As a reference point, the league average last season was 5.55 flags per game and 45.57 yards. Preseason and early regular season tend to be higher than the entire year ends up.

Defensive end Greg Rousseau had an offside flag for the usual five yards. It also awarded a free first down (from second), which will be a factor that elevates Harm rating when I start doing the calculations for the regular season. For those interested, each down rates as 1.0 Harm and each yard adds 0.1 Harm. That means Rousseau’s flag would be 1.5 Harm in the formula. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver was called for the same penalty later in the game, but without any free downs.

Cornerback Kaiir Elam had an 11-yard defensive pass interference call that was yards only. Cornerback Siran Neal had one as well in the end zone. Indy was at the Buffalo two-yard line so it was a one-yard flag only. Meh.

While they were only five yards each, at the end of the third quarter the defense was called for too many men on the field. Shortly after, the offense was flagged for an illegal formation. These pre-snap confusion penalties are generally uncommon, so seeing two rapid-fire is a bit dismaying.

Cornerback Alex Austin had a 22-yard defensive pass interference in the fourth quarter that was yards only.

Overall, it wasn’t really too terrible of a day for the Bills despite the seemingly high penalty total. There were also a healthy number of declined flags, so let’s also go on record and say it wasn’t a good day either.