The Buffalo Bills opened up the season on Monday Night Football taking on the New York Jets. I forget the final outcome, but there were some penalties to talk about. This is a bit later in the week than I’d prefer so I apologize if you’re already onto the Las Vegas Raiders. I’ll do better next time. That’s a phrase that fits well with... whatever happened on Monday night. Anyway, penalties!
Standard and Advanced Metrics
For those of you new to my penalty recaps, don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments. We use a lot of specialty terminology here, including a proprietary statistic you’ll only find in my recaps (check it out below).
For Week 1, as usual the NFL has a fairly high rate of count and what I call “true count” (all flags, including declined and offset). This tends to decline over the course of the year. Both teams were below the league average. The Jets were well below on count, but only a touch low on true count thanks to four declined flags. Buffalo had five called, all of which were assessed.
There’s a similar story when it comes to yards. Both teams were below the league average in assessed yards. The Jets were way under. True yards is where we start to dive into things you won’t find all over the internet. True yards adds in any yardage negated via penalty. The Jets didn’t negate a single yard in this game. Buffalo wiped out a gain of eight on a single play that I’ll highlight below.
New York Jets
Here’s that proprietary statistic. Ready for the very short version. “Harm” is a red flag method of assessing the potential impact of a flag on the outcome of a game. It counts assessed yards, negated yards, downs either given up or negated, and more. Numbers aren’t intended to be directly proportional to each other. The idea is more that the higher the number, the greater the chance the flag impacted the game. Feel free to ask about the formula. I don’t keep it a secret but it’s a lot to recap in every article.
Thanks to so many flags being declined, the Jets had very little Harm. Only two flags had any, and both were counted as 0.5 Harm for the assessed yards only. That would be the delay of game and the false start flag. Both are pre-snap and very boring to discuss.
I’ll only discuss two of the declined flags. The Jeremy Ruckert offensive pass interference and the Connor McGovern ineligible downfield call. Both happened on the same play, an incomplete pass on 3rd & 13 at the Buffalo 25-yard line. The commentators questioned Buffalo declining the flags, under the premise that offensive pass interference (OPI) would have set the Jets back another ten yards, making for a tougher field goal attempt. Let’s examine this from an analytics standpoint.
Declining the penalties (what actually happened) led to 4th & 13 and forced the field goal attempt. The 43-yarder was good. Accepting the OPI would have led to the Jets having the ball ten yards back and a 3rd & 23 attempt. Would it have been a 53-yard kick? Probably not. That assumes another incomplete pass or a gain of zero. The Jets likely would have gained some yards. While the kick might have been a bit longer than 43, it wouldn’t have been 53 either, in all likelihood.
The chance of pushing the Jets far enough back to significantly alter the field goal percentage wasn’t very good. With another attempt, there’s also a chance they gain the entire ten yards back or maybe even more. Heck, there’s even a small chance they convert and continue the drive. And no matter what, the defense still has to play that down, leading to one more rep to wear down.
My personal opinion is that Sean McDermott made the better choice. The most likely result of accepting the flag was a field goal try roughly equivalent to declining. In that situation, I would elect to get the defense off the field one snap sooner.
For the new readers, we end each team’s summary with their cumulative Harm rating for the game. A good rule of thumb is that below 10.0 Harm was a good day, and above that a bad one. The Jets ended with 1.0 Harm, which was an excellent penalty day. The only disclaimer is that two-thirds of their flags were declined as Buffalo felt the result on the field was worse than the flag.
I won’t discuss all of these as the false starts by Dawson Knox and Spencer Brown were yards only. Brown’s certainly didn’t get overtime off to good start however.
For Terrel Bernard’s defensive holding, the flag was for five yards or 0.5 Harm. It occurred on a second-down play, which gave the Jets a first down. That’s one free down (second to first) for 1.0 Harm or 1.5 Harm total for the flag.
Matt Milano’s taunting was for 15 yards or 1.5 Harm. It was also completely warranted. Here’s a look. That’s all we’ll do for the record, is look. No explaining necessary here.
Stefon Diggs was called for OPI. For the formula aspect, that’s ten assessed yards and eight yards negated on the completed pass. With 18 total yards on the flag, that’s 1.8 Harm. I think more people are likely wondering about the rules on this one than the formula, so let’s take a look then discuss.
It’s not egregious and yeah, you’re likely to see some plays like this that aren’t called. But Diggs’ arms do extend at the end of the route and that looks like a push off, which is the most classic example of OPI. I don’t mind the call, though this falls under the category of “ticky-tack.”
Buffalo had a total of 5.8 Harm. While that’s quite a bit higher than the Jets, it’s still a very good result. The bottom line is that penalties had a relatively low impact on the outcome of this game.