The preseason is over! The next time you see a Buffalo Bills penalty recap, it should be in all its regular season glory, complete with Penalty Harm ratings! The Bills and Chicago Bears were penalty prone as has been the case all preseason, but as we indicated last week, there’s no cause or alarm, as preseason performance doesn’t inherently carry over. The good news for the “why even bother” question is that there’s always types of penalties to dissect and learn from. Personal fouls were prominent, and that’s where our intrigue lies this week.
When looking at yards per assessed flag, the NFL was under nine yards per penalty in 2017. Against the Bears, the Bills were at 11.6 yards per assessed penalty. Yuck. The drastic skewing toward personal fouls and holding penalties elevated the average considerably.
Get used to these. At the heart of the new lowering the head penalty is a full-on effort to change how tackling is done in the NFL. The old “low man wins” strategy still applies, but you’d better be sure you’re dropping everything but your head. Siran Neal attempts to adjust to the new rule by going so low that his right knee is on the turf. As we’ve seen several times already in the preseason, this is risky business.
The Bears had two more penalties assessed and 26 yards more than the Bills. They also averaged 11.8 yards per assessed penalty. The last three flags on the list look more like the play by play from a Mutant League Football game than anything that should be coming out of an NFL one. The last couple helped the Bills move down the field to secure their comeback victory. Will AJ McCarron take one for the team? Try “several,” apparently.
Take a long look at this sentence: “A standard of strict liability applies for any contact against a passer, irrespective of any acts by the passer, such as ducking his head or curling up his body in anticipation of contact.” This is taken from the notes section of the NFL Rule Book regarding roughing the passer. The philosophy of this sentence essentially translates to “the defender is responsible for 100% of what happens to a quarterback, no matter what he happened to be doing.” The quarterback ducks late and the defender can’t pull up to avoid contact with the helmet? Too bad. Strict liability. This is important because…
Isaiah Irving is completely liable for what happens to McCarron here. There are multiple scenarios in which quarterbacks have special protection, but the throwing or passing posture is the underlying principle behind the roughing penalty. Though it’s hard to argue Irving’s timing is malicious, the fact that AJ McCarron is so obviously in a throwing posture means Irving takes full blame for everything that occurs. The rules prohibit “stuffing” the quarterback because of their vulnerable position while throwing. This one doesn’t look egregious in real time, but it’s a good call. One more applicable sentence from the rule book says, “…the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer with all or most of his body weight.”
The rule prohibits “forcibly” making contact with the head or neck area of the quarterback. This can occur from various body parts. However, several subsections of the rules protecting the quarterback specifically cite the forearm. While a hit with the hand can often be seen as incidental, forearm strikes are almost always an easy call. This flag saved the game for the Bills. An incomplete fourth down pass in the shadow of their own endzone became a first down 15 yards down the field.
Abdullah Anderson tries to pull up and manages to avoid stuffing McCarron. But it’s too late. The motion of McCarron’s head and the forearm on the helmet make this one an easy call.