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Penalty Recap: Buffalo Bills at Washington Commanders is as odd as expected

Three words for you: Land. ****ing. Clark.

NFL: NOV 07 Bills at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hey everyone, it’s me — the ref apologist. You might all know by now though that’s there one official whose name brings terror to even my straw-filled heart. Land. ****ing. Clark. I want to be clear. I don’t believe for a second that Land. ****ing. Clark is biased against the Buffalo Bills. It’s not even that I think his crew routinely makes bad calls (though they’ve had a few). It’s just that something weird seems to happen with penalties every dang time Clark and company call a Bills game. Was this game an exception? Ha ha ha ha. Come on in.

Shout out to as I haven’t mentioned them yet this year. I can get penalty data from a few places, but nowhere as quickly and thoroughly as their site.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Now we have a trend three weeks long. The Bills float a touch under league average and their opponents stay even further below. The Washington Commanders had one flag declined, which has also been the trend (opponents have more declined/offset than Buffalo). The league numbers actually went up a bit this week, which does happen. Expect them to tick back down.

Penalty Yards

This has also been what we’ve seen this year. Buffalo has had more assessed yards to go with their higher assessed count, but their opponents have negated more yardage via penalty. Buffalo only impacted four yards via flag to Washington’s 15.

Penalty Harm

Washington Commanders

This is about as boring of a chart as it gets. The offside call was declined as quarterback Josh Allen had completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Dawson Knox. The offensive holding call on linebacker David Mayo was on a punt return and just gave the Bills the extra yards from the assessed.

Center Nick Gates got a little ahead of himself and was flagged five yards for being downfield too soon. That wiped out a 15-yard play for a total swing of 20 yards, or 2.0 Harm.

About the most intriguing aspect of the day is a little oddity that you might expect in a game called by Land. ****ing. Clark. Washington was called for the first two flags of the game and the last one. It was all Buffalo in between for a penalty sandwich of sorts.

Washington’s total Harm was 3.0, well below our dividing line of 10 to differentiate between a good day and a bad day.

Buffalo Bills

I’m only going to really discuss a couple, but if you’re intrigued by one I neglect up here ask away in the comments and I’ll attempt to sate your curiosity. Right tackle Spencer Brown’s offensive holding called back a four-yard scramble by Allen. Similarly, tight end Dalton Kincaid’s illegal shift negated a three-yard Allen scramble. Let’s get a little weird now.

Cornerback Christian Benford’s illegal contact was the right call, but in a way that’s not always seen or even obvious. Let’s look, then dissect.

It’s relatively common knowledge that defensive players can initiate some contact within five yards from the line of scrimmage. The defender can even make continuous contact in this zone. At the paused frame above, Benford is making contact just beyond the five yards. But even right at the five-yard cutoff, the receiver is “even” with Benford. Once that occurs, the defender is no longer able to make contact that impedes the receiver. That applies even within that five-yard zone. So it’s not that Land. ****ing. Clark is wrong. It’s just a bit odd.

Speaking of odd, this seems to be technically the wrong call. This is the tripping called on Kincaid. If you’re wondering about the Harm calculation, this was called for 15 yards but negated a three-yard loss (Josh Allen sack). Take a peek and I’ll tell you why I think this was the wrong call (but not terribly wrong).

The NFL rule book has a glossary. Not everything gets an official definition, but “tripping” does. It’s defined as “Tripping is the use of the leg or foot to obstruct any opponent.” Kincaid doesn’t use his leg or foot to obstruct, so therefore tripping isn’t possible. I can see why the crew thought he had, based on the motion of the opponent’s leg.

Now, if you’re upset by this, I would argue this is a pretty clear case of offensive holding. That’s five yards less on the flag, which likely wouldn’t change much for the drive this flag occurred on. How often do you even see this kind of scenario? As noted, Clark games are just weird.

The Bills ended with 6.9 Harm, which is their highest of the year so far — but also well below the 10.0 Harm mark. Overall, it’s safe to say this game was barely impacted by penalties.