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Penalty Recap: Bills vs. Chiefs — NFL Playoffs, AFC Divisional Round

Penalties were not the story everyone thought they’d be

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

I’ve been thinking a lot about fandom this week and I’ll level with all of you. The lack of a championship for the Buffalo Bills isn’t all that upsetting to me. Obviously I’d prefer that outcome, but I was forged in the era when “Boy I Love Losing Super (Bowls)” was fresh and creative. The loss doesn’t faze me.

Do you know what does though? The goodbyes. The fact that the season is over. The fact that I have to wait until the air grows warmer and all the way back into the next cooling cycle to do this all over again. That’s what bothers me. The good news is we still have season recaps to look forward to, so at least our goodbyes are dragged out like awkward teenage dating ones.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

Conventional wisdom says that the officials let the teams play a little looser in the playoffs and call fewer flags. In my experience doing these recaps there seems to be some truth to this belief. It sure looks to be true for this chart. Since the chart does the heavy lifting, I’ll get one of my usual disclaimers out of the way right now.

I know that no-calls can impact the game and I’m open to debating them. However, doing an article on no-calls would mean an incredibly deep dive into the film that I simply don’t have time for. If you think you saw one, drop a time stamp and what you think happened in the comments and I’ll try to take a look and reply with my thoughts on the matter.

Penalty Yards

This tracks from the counts. The big item to talk about here is that Kansas City’s true yards are lower than their assessed. For anyone just getting into these recaps, true yards measures yards negated or otherwise impacted by penalty. Sometimes a penalty can result in some limited positives when it comes to yardage. I’ll explain this one below. Also, for those of you new to this who needed that explanation; what the **** took you so long to come over to the wildest penalty recap in football?

Penalty Harm

Kansas City

This shouldn’t take long. Offensive tackles Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith were both flagged on the same play. Buffalo can’t accept both so they rolled with Smith’s ten-yard flag rather than Taylor’s five-yard flag. For the formula lovers out there you may be wondering why Smith’s holding call only had 0.5 Harm rather than the expected 1.0 for a ten-yard flag. Running back Isiah Pacheco was dropped for a five-yard loss by edge rusher Von Miller on the play. By accepting the penalty, the Bills technically wiped the five-yard TFL off the board. This was arguably Miller’s best play of the game. It didn’t count.

Head coach Sean McDermott is an avid reader of this series I assume, as he’s become absolutely analytics driven with penalty decisions the last couple years. In most circumstances, you’d decline both penalties. The loss of five yards would also come with a lost down if the play counted. Accepting the flag resets the down. With only 15 seconds left in the second quarter, the extra down was meaningless so McDermott made the right decision. If Kansas City had wanted to attempt a Hail Mary, the extra five-yard loss was more crucial.

Nickel cornerback Trent McDuffie’s illegal-use-of-hands flag was accepted. It gave Buffalo five free yards and a free down from second. For anyone new to the formula, yards are assessed as 0.1 per yard and 1.0 per down. Five yards and one down then is 0.5 + 1.0 for 1.5 Harm.

Kansas City’s full day led to 2.0 Harm. In other words, penalties were close to meaningless for them in this contest. Sometimes the Harm rating can get it wrong. In this case, though — I think it’s spot on.

Buffalo Bills

There was a lot of hubbub about Shawn Hochuli being the referee for the game and a seeming bias against Buffalo. Even I called him out for how poorly officiated the Bills’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this season was. That said, there’s a difference between a ****ty job and a biased job. How did it play out? Let’s take a look at all the flags to see if any were bogus.

Well not the delay, which was pretty clear, or the encroachment by defensive tackle Tim Settle Jr. — which was also pretty clear. Let’s take a look at 60% of the flags then, I guess.

Tight end Dalton Kincaid was the first flag on the day with his illegal bat. Per the rule book, batting the ball is only illegal on a play like this if the ball is pushed toward your opponent’s goal line.

Okay fine. This was also clear. For the rating, the penalty is assessed at ten yards. It was marked as spot of the foul, which also negated one yard from the catch by wide receiver Stefon Diggs. This is also one of those fun offensive penalties that also results in a loss of down. That’s pretty bad, but better than allowing a turnover. You’re looking at the rare instance of a “good” penalty.

Cornerback Rasul Douglas was called for defensive holding, which gave up five yards. It occurred on first down so no free downs. Was it the right call though?

Within five yards of the line of scrimmage, defenders are allowed to make pretty heavy-duty contact. However, that no longer applies if the receiver is at the same level or beyond the defender. In this case the receiver is past Douglas when he is very obviously twisted around. This is an easy call.

Last but not least we have linebacker Dorian Williams getting called for defensive pass interference. The three-yard flag also gave up two free downs. Let’s cut to the chase: it was the right call. Williams maybe could have played it off all cool, like the receiver ran into him and he was simply existing in his path. Perhaps it would have worked too. You know what won’t work? This:

Leaning into the guy and making contact like that is the opposite of playing it cool. Another good call.

The Buffalo Bills accumulated 5.9 Harm, which is overall a pretty clean day. Flags had a small impact, but nothing crazy.

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