The Buffalo Bills Penalty Problem is Nothing New

AP/Bill Wippert
AP/Bill Wippert


Four weeks into the 2015 regular season and the Buffalo Bills are currently on pace to obliterate the NFL record for most penalties. It’s quite the black eye on what’s been an otherwise encouraging start as the team’s incurred a league-high 47 infractions for a total of 428 yards.

It comes easy for some to blame the fiery head coach as members of sports radio and the media have been ripping Rex Ryan all week. He’s an emotional guy that speaks his mind and ultimately runs the locker room, so part of that criticism is warranted. A further look into the numbers however reveals a more complex issue, as penalties have been a big problem in Buffalo for years.

Not including the first four games of this season, the Bills have only finished outside of the top-10 for most penalties once in the last three years. In comparison, Ryan’s Jets teams’ have fared better over that same time span only finishing inside the top-ten once and averaging the 18th overall ranking. Here’s a full look at the totals for each team from 2012-2014.

2014: Bills: 124 flags for 1,031 yards (2nd) vs. Jets: 109 flags for 932 yards (17th)

2013: Bills: 110 flags for 952 yards (8th) vs. Jets: 108 flags for (10th)

2012: Bills: 104 flags for 871yards (12th) vs. Jets: 83 flags for 708 yards (29th)


The amount of flags called on Buffalo has alarmingly increased in each of the last three seasons since 2012. While that’s also true about Rex’s Jets, they at least committed less overall penalties. In 2014, DE Jerry Hughes was whistled a team-high nine times, followed by C Eric Wood with seven flags in 2013 and CB Stephon Gilmore with a whopping 12 infractions in 2012.

It’s a clear indication the Bills have struggled with penalties for the past few years regardless of the head coach. Rex didn’t just show up one day and then all of the sudden everyone started acting up. This squad has been battling the issue for awhile now and seem to have built a reputation with the referees in the process.

Now there is the argument that a high number of penalties don’t always correlate to a bad win-loss record, as the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots each finished ranked in the top-five most penalized teams in 2014. For anyone who watches Bills games’ however, it’s hard to argue that the increase in calls haven’t spoiled multiple chances at victory.

That certainly held true this past Sunday against the New York Giants, as two scoring plays were called back on penalties that would have changed the course of the game. First, Tyrod Taylor had a 31-yard touchdown scramble called back on a questionable Kraig Urbik-holding call while the quarterback’s 24-yard toss to Charles Clay in the endzone was wiped out by a Richie Incognito chop-block. Whether the player’s feel like they are being targeted or not, Rex needs to get his guys under control and quick.


The first-year Bills’ head coach did a heck of a job riling up his team for week two’s matchup against Tom Brady that resulted in a loss and emotional breakdown. Afterwards Ryan took the blame for providing bulletin board material for New England and rightfully mentioned making a more concerted effort to keep things in check.

Fast forward to week five and the pregame talk is still about the penalties as the Bills were whistled for another 17 against the Giants, one of those apparently coming from Buffalo’s sidelines as well. Ryan said he will resort to benching players and even making the entire team do push ups if it comes to that. Great if it works because Buffalo has accumulated 8 unnecessary roughness penalties in just four game this season which is easily fixable.

Hopefully the head coach and the rest of his staff can convince the players to keep their composure starting right now. His brash approach to the game doesn’t need to spill over into extracurricular activities on the field. That being said we all know the players are actually in the game and will ultimately have the final say. Let’s just hope they’re ready to do whatever it takes to slow down the penalties, for everyone’s sanity.