There were a host of factors that contributed to Buffalo's three-point loss to the Eagles on Sunday. No one will debate that the 15 penalties assessed against the Bills were critical in the game, but most of those penalties took place in an area of the field where Philadelphia won the game with some interesting tactics.
Eleven of Buffalo's 15 assessed penalties were against Bills offensive or defensive linemen Sunday. Defensive linemen Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes (twice) and Mario Williams were all cited for neutral zone infractions prior to the snap handing the Eagles five free yards each time. All four of those penalties came on 3rd-and-long situations and gave Philadelphia 3rd-and-medium or 3rd-and-short plays.
Two of the Eagles drives resulted in points with Philadelphia getting a touchdown and a field goal. One resulted in a turnover on Leodis McKelvin's first interception of the season. Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes said Eagles center Jason Kelce was adjusting the ball prior to the snap and it threw Buffalo's defensive linemen off.
"The center did a real good job of moving the ball playing within the rules," said Jerry Hughes. "He played within the rules, but he moved the ball a lot pre snap. It was hard for the referees to acknowledge that. It was definitely difficult for us. As D-linemen we're taught to move on the first move."
Linebacker Manny Lawson also admitted to being thrown by Eagles QB Sam Bradford's cadence pre-snap.
"Bradford did a great job with his hard count, his offensive line did a great job with it too," said Lawson. "We have horses up front that are ready to get off that ball. We just have to make sure we key the ball whenever they go."
"We didn't play good football at all," said Hughes. "I hang my head down low because it was just bad ball."
Cox caused problemsOn the offensive side of the ball Buffalo's linemen were whistled for seven penalties. Three holding calls, a pair of false starts, a face mask and an illegal use of hands. The holding calls came early in their series and led to long down and distance, which dramatically shortened the playbook and forced Buffalo to pass more than they wanted in the game.
"Penalties hurt us in this game and we had probably over 100 yards in penalties," said Tyrod Taylor. "That's not a winning formula. Offensively we did some things very well. We just didn't capitalize. I agree with what Robert (Woods) said. We beat ourselves."
One of the Eagles defensive linemen who wreaked havoc for most of the game was DE Fletcher Cox. The former first-round pick had a sack on the Bills first series to force a punt and was a disruptive force for the rest of the afternoon.
In his last four home games prior to Sunday, Cox, who the Eagles moved up and down the defensive line had 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Against the Bills he led the Eagles in tackles (8) had the team's only sack and a quarterback hit. He would've done more damage, but most of Buffalo's penalties were drawn by Cox.
"I'm man enough to say I didn't play my best," said Richie Incognito, who was flagged twice when facing Cox. "A face mask penalty and a holding penalty. I have to use better technique. I got to play better. It's tough to overcome those things, especially deep in your own territory when you get second and long, third and long. You just put unneeded stress on the offense. It's hard to stay on schedule. It's on us."
John Miller and Eric Wood also got flagged for holding on Cox at different times in the game.
"Fletcher on anybody is a matchup we like," said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "You could see Incognito was getting frustrated a couple of times and there were penalties happening. We move him around anyway to see what he likes, but he doesn't care. He says to put him on anybody and he'll be fine. I think they struggled with him like everybody has struggled to block him. He's having a great year."
Not counting the Bills one-play kneel down possession at the end of the first half, Buffalo committed at least one penalty on each of their last 10 series in the game. The 101 yards in penalty yardage marked the sixth time this season the Bills have racked up 100 or more penalty yards. The veteran Lawson sensed a lot of the players were overanxious to make something happen in a game that they had to have.
"We weren't focused, we weren't tuned in," he said. "And we were too eager to make plays. Us understanding what this game means for us, and what this game holds for us, kind of put a little added pressure on us to make plays-to do more than what we should do. Ultimately, all in all, we have to be more disciplined."