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Penalty Recap: Las Vegas Raiders at Buffalo Bills

Not a ton to discuss — the only article series where that can be a good thing

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

The Buffalo Bills disappointed in Week 1. A loss is always that, but the way it went down was especially dismaying. Fans were hoping for a bounce back game. With a 38-10 victory over the visiting Las Vegas Raiders it was a bounce back worthy of one of those quarter machine spheres of delight. Pro tip: They’re incredibly fun in an elevator (make sure everyone riding is in on the joke). What I’m getting at is that it was a big win yesterday. With the anxiety gone for a week, let’s take a deep breath and enjoy discussing rules. Weeeeee!

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

The league average came down a bit from last week. It’ll come down more before the season is through. Like last week, both teams were under the average. Also like last week, the opponent was lower than Buffalo. Continuing the same narratives even further, the Raiders were called for quite a few more penalties than were accepted (true count includes offset and declined). By the usual numbers though, both teams had a good game.

Penalty Yards

Interestingly, while the Raiders had fewer penalties assessed than Buffalo did, they were dead even on assessed yards, indicating higher severity on average. True yards factors in any yards negated or impacted by a penalty. Buffalo negated two yards via penalty, while the Raiders negated 16. This data is starting to suggest that Las Vegas had a rougher penalty day than Buffalo, despite a lower volume of flags.

Penalty Harm

Las Vegas Raiders

Even though only two flags counted, the Raiders decided to make them interesting ones. And by “Raiders” I mean cornerback Nate Hobbs who committed both of them. This is going to be a good recap of the formula for Penalty Harm, too, for any new readers out there.

On Hobbs’ defensive pass interference, it was assessed for 25 yards. It occurred on first down so no free downs were given. Buffalo got the ball at the Las Vegas one-yard line, which makes this one pretty bad for the visiting team. Even if that hadn’t been the case, conceding a quarter of the field to the opponent is never wise.

The illegal use of hands would have been a killer in a tight game. The flag itself will go into the official books as a mere five yards given to Buffalo. No free downs. Just a few paltry yards. With my metric, I factor in the fact that Josh Allen was intercepted by safety Roderic Teamer Jr. — who then returned the ball 16 yards. That means the Raiders lost that potential 16 yards, and the four downs they’d have had if they had kept possession. Yards are counted as 0.1 Harm apiece. Every down is counted as 1.0 Harm.

That means 5 assessed yards + 16 negated yards + 4 negated downs. Or 0.5 + 1.6 + 4.0 = 6.1 Harm.

One of my favorite sayings for flags is that they’re only declined when something worse happens to you. Let’s explore that. Accept five yards on the offside call or the 19-yard completion? Or accept the ten yards on the offensive holding call, or take the ball after the fumble recovery? My axiom seems true for this one. Note; the Moehrig flag was offset by the holding flag from offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence.

The Raiders had 8.6 Harm total for the day. That’s below our 10.0 Harm “bad day” threshold, but pretty high for only two assessed. Thanks Hobbs!

Buffalo Bills

Most of these are pretty straightforward. As noted, the Torrence one was offset. Cornerback Christian Benford’s flag was declined as the Raiders gained 11 yards on the play. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa’s neutral zone infraction and tight end Dalton Kincaid’s false start were both yards, as pre-snap penalties tend to be.

That just leaves two. Fullback Reggie Gilliam was called for an illegal motion. As noted in the broadcast, it’s okay to be in motion during the snap, but you can’t be moving toward the line of scrimmage. This flag wiped out a two-yard gain from running back James Cook, which is fine if you think about it as it would have brought his yards-per-carry number down.

I won’t show Taylor Rapp’s unnecessary roughness. but it was yards only. You may be wondering why this shot to the head was called, but one to Josh Allen earlier in the game wasn’t. The most important thing to note before we begin this discussion is that there isn’t a blanket rule prohibiting blows to the head in the NFL. It’s always “Blow to the head + Factor A” and sometimes Factors B, C, etc. Alright then...

The biggest difference between the two is that Allen was a runner and not giving himself up. He was in a position to defend himself. Most rules prohibiting contact with the head protect defenseless players. Rapp hit a receiver trying to make a catch. A player in the process of the catch is defenseless until the ball is caught and they can establish themselves as a runner (like Allen was) and able to defend himself again. Hitting defenseless players is usually strict liability. No other circumstances matter, it either happened or it didn’t. It happened with Rapp, so it’s a flag.

For a runner, some hits to the head may be prohibited, but you’re looking at other factors typically. Allen wasn’t giving himself up, so gained no protection there. I’m not going to name the defender so as not to stir the pot but, while the lowered shoulder may have been deliberate, it needs other factors to be a flag.

The most common would be lowering the head to initiate contact. From a rules and technique stance, you might remember that the NFL was looking for the “flat back with eyes down” stance to call that one. That wasn’t the case and again, from a purely technique stance, the defender lowered the shoulder in a legal tackling form.

The refs can call unnecessary roughness for any action that’s flagrant. While I’m not asking you to love that hit on Allen, I would ask you to consider the precedent it would set. From a rules standpoint you have a player incidentally hitting the helmet of an opponent who is being tackled but not yet down, using a legal hit with the shoulder. The player was hit before being down by contact as well so the play is still live and not a late hit.

Buffalo’s total Harm for the day was 3.2, which is an excellent day for yellow laundry.