Bills Packers game recap: Robert Tonyan penalty cost Green Bay big

I remarked during the bye week that the Buffalo Bills had an overall good year when it came to penalties. When you put something like that out into the universe, you always worry about creating a jinx.

Well, guess what? The universe must have been asleep, because the Bills continue doing well when it comes to penalties. It’s making this weekly segment mostly boring—but if there’s one thing I do for Buffalo Rumblings that arguably everyone should want less of, it’s penalty recaps.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

So far, the intro is holding true. The Bills were two penalties on the right side of things for both sides of the chart. Buffalo had the only declined flag of the day, late in the fourth quarter. Interestingly, the league average ticked very slightly up again. We may not only be nearing the 2022 plateau, it’s possible that we’ve already arrived at it.

Penalty yards

Similar story here for assessed yards, with the Bills on the right side of league average and the Green Bay Packers… less so. The gap widens a little more when we add in negated/impacted yards. There’ll be some wackiness on the Packers’ side. That’s called “foreshadowing,” and it’s intended to coax you into reading through the boring part.

For now, here’s one fun fact. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo was assessed 35 penalty yards. Kansas City? They were assessed 58 yards. coincidence? Yes, of course it is. But it’s nonetheless neat.

penalty harm

Buffalo Bills

Here’s the boring stretch. Left tackle Dion Dawkins was the aforementioned declined penalty. The pass was incomplete where he was too far downfield on third down, and the Packers (wisely) elected not to give quarterback Josh Allen and company a second chance. Dawkins was also called for holding that wiped out a six-yard gain by running back Devin Singletary.

Wide receiver Gabe Davis gave a little shove at the end of a play that cost the Bills 15 yards. There’s not much more to the story. Well, except for how chippy it was between the two teams, which is a narrative that’ll be continued below (foreshadowing). That’s really odd too, because there’s basically zero reason the two teams should have had a grudge against each other.

Cornerback Dane Jackson’s flag for illegal use of hands, and defensive tackle Ed Oliver’s offside penalty both wiped out sacks. While the pass rush had a decent day as it was, it could have gone down as a dominant performance if it weren’t for a couple setbacks. Jackson’s flag wiped out an eight-yard Oliver sack, and Oliver paid it forward by wiping out a six-yard sack by defensive end Greg Rousseau.

Add ’em all up, and Buffalo had 5.5 Harm, which is pretty low. For most seasons I’ve been doing this, it’d be shockingly low. In 2022, it’s pretty normal.

Green Bay Packers

Here’s where the fun’s hiding! Disqualification! Chart wrecking penalties in two different directions! Boy oh boy! The Packers were in a giving mood for us penalty nerds. I’ll only cover a few, because I don’t want the normal ones killing the vibe.

Linebacker Quay Walker was thrown out before halftime. Walker giving a little shove on the sideline to a practice squad player is likely something you’ve seen. What makes it interesting to me is that the first half was where Buffalo ran wild with scoring. Usually, taking starters off the field helps the opposing team, but Buffalo stalled in the second half. It wasn’t really much to do with Walker, but it’s also kind of neat.

Strong safety Innis Gaines would usually be the worst flag of the day for most games. Gaines was called for holding during a kickoff return by cornerback Keisean Nixon. It was Nixon’s only good return of the day, bringing it 49 yards to the 50. Called back to the eight, that’s a 42-yard swing for 4.2 harm and a pretty big deal.

It’s nothing compared to tight end Robert Tonyan’s offensive pass-interference flag, though. Tonyan negated his own touchdown pass. Negated TDs are assessed at 7.0 Harm right out of the gate. The yardage is also counted, and Tonyan’s was assessed at ten yards and negated ten yards. Downs are also counted, and this could have also created a first down from third for two negated downs. That’s a lot of things wiped out by a bit of a shove. This rated so high it completely throws off the scale of the chart.

But wait! There’s more. Negative flags? What madness is this? This happens occasionally, and shows how analytics might not always match in-game decisions. Two Davis catches of nine yards each were passed over in lieu of accepting penalties by Green Bay. Both penalties were five-yarders. From a field position standpoint, accepting both these flags pushed the ball backward for the bills by four yards.

The defensive holding call on Eric Wilson was on first down, and was therefore yardage only. The formula doesn’t count this as a negated down (first to first), and the negative harm here is a reflection on how even the coolest, most exciting stats like Penalty Harm aren’t perfect. Buffalo had 1st & 10 from the 35, rather than 2nd & 1 at the 39. Buffalo felt the extra down was more valuable than the four yards—which isn’t really a wrong choice. Personally, I like the odds that Buffalo converts, but I get it either way.

Linebacker Kingsley Enagbare’s offside call was similar in many respects, but arguably an easier choice for Buffalo. Occurring on 2nd & 14, the Bills’ choice was either accept for 2nd & 9, or decline for 3rd & 5. The harm rates the same -0.4 for the same reasons as the Wilson flag, but full context is key.

Whew, after all that, the Packers landed at 19.4 Harm for the day. That is easily the worst score we’ve seen by any team this year. Thanks Robert Tonyan!

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