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You’d probably need more than just your fingers and toes to count how many 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties Jerry Hughes took last season. Each of those 15-yard penalties were more frustrating than the last.
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, one specific game comes to mind when a defensive pass interference penalty in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars ultimately gave the Jaguars the field position to win the game and potentially cost the Bills a chance to gain some momentum going into the stretch run of the season.
On the other side of the ball, on multiple occasions holding calls by the offensive line stalled promising drives for a unit that needed all the help they could get.
Then there was special teams unit. Last season the Bills might have been the worst all around special teams unit in the league. Whether it was the kick and punt return units with costly blocking in the back penalties or the field goal unit committing a pre-snap penalty that put the team out of field goal range, special teams in 2015 were an absolute disaster.
In that 2015 season, the Bills had a total of 168 flags thrown against them with 143 accepted. That ran up a total of 1,249 total penalty yards. To put that number in prospective, the league’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, had 1,485 rushing yards last season, just 236 more rushing yards than the Bills had penalty yards last year.
Whether it be offensively or defensively, when any team, no matter how talented they might be, gives up over 1,200 free yards to their opponent over the course of a season, it’s going to be tremendously difficult to play meaningful football in January.
The most alarming thing about the amount of penalties the Bills had last season is that just over 55% of them came at home where most are led to believe the home team has the advantage in getting calls. At times, you could tell that the Bills were just a little too aggressive playing in front of the Bills Mafia at Ralph Wilson Stadium and it cost them dearly.
With home field advantage so important in the NFL, head coach Rex Ryan has to figure out a way to get his team up for home games, but in a way that harps on the importance of discipline.
If the Bills want to take the next step in both the AFC East and the conference next season, they will have to shore up the penalty issues that plagued them in all three phases of the game last year. If they can do that, they have the talent to be a wild card team at the very least.