Not so much Penalty Harm as it is a “normal” recap
This won’t be quite as intricate as the regular-season breakdown. I won’t be doing Harm calculations for every one, no GIFs and no charts for example. But let’s check in to see if there’s anything that stands out from the Buffalo Bills’ preseason victory over the Indianapolis Colts. If I miss anything, feel free to bring it up in the comments.
By the Numbers
This was not a good game for either team, but especially Buffalo. Last year, teams averaged a bit under six penalties per game on average. Indianapolis had nine flags thrown their way. Buffalo had 11, a hair short of twice the league average last year.
For yardage, about 50 a game was standard last year. The Colts weren’t too far out of whack at 67 yards. Buffalo on the other hand amassed 90 yards of flags—quite a bit more.
The good news is that the preseason is often flag happy as the officiating crew tries to clean things up. You also see players who overall have less experience, sometimes less ability, and are more desperate to make a splash. Add all of those things up and there’s not much reason to think this will mirror the regular-season reality.
For reference, last year the Bills had nine penalties for 112 yards to open up the preseason.
What stood out
The Colts were called for ten flags, one was declined. Of those ten, eight of them were on offense and two were on defense. It’s pretty clear that their woes were pretty lopsided as to whom to blame.
On defense, there’s no real pattern or concerns. They had one neutral-zone infraction and one face mask. Face mask flags are pretty fluky and one neutral-zone infraction is hardly a pattern.
It’s possible the neutral-zone infraction was part of what I’d consider flags due to the “jitters.” The Colts had four false-start flags, which is pretty wild. They also had two holding flags and two offensive pass interference (OPI) calls.
One of those OPI calls is the only Harm rating I’ll do today. For those unfamiliar with the rating system, it’s intended to identify flags that COULD have had a major impact on the game by assessing numeric ratings to various factors like assessed yards, impacted yards, and other items.
Bernhard Raimann’s OPI negated a touchdown, which is assessed at 7.0 Harm. It also negated 17 yards on the play for 1.7 Harm. The flag itself was 10 yards for 1.0 Harm. No downs were impacted. That’s 7.0 + 1.7 +1.0 for 9.7 Harm for this flag, which is one we’d definitely bring up in conversation. The Colts overcame the flag and scored that TD again, which is a reminder that Harm is not necessarily the same as actual damage done to the team.
The good news is that the Bills distributed their flags across the entire team. The bad news is that with 13 flags called, it means the entire team was penalty prone. There were three on special teams, four on defense, and six on offense.
For special teams, they were all holding calls, which fans rightfully called out as a problem for this game.
On defense, Kaiir Elam was called for defensive pass interference as one of very few blemishes to his debut. Buffalo was also called for defensive holding twice and an unusual low-block flag. Here’s a link to last year’s article on rule changes for the 2021 season, which covers the low-block rules. The replay during the game looked like this was a good call.
On offense, unlike the Colts there wasn’t too much of a trend. Two false starts show a little jitter possibly, but the other flags were holding (twice), a face mask, and an illegal touch when Tanner Gentry stepped out of bounds and was the first to touch the ball when he caught a Matt Barkley pass.