It didn’t take long for Dirk Koetter to spotlight issues in dire need of improvement when he took over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in January.
For a franchise that’s stumbled and bumbled its way to a .288 winning percentage over the last five years, the new head coach didn’t have to rack his brain to find deficiencies. One bulls-eyed by Koetter right off the bat was self-inflicted wounds. More specifically, not committing so many damaging penalties.
The situation got so bad in Lovie Smith’s final season last year that Tampa Bay finished its 6-10 campaign tied with Buffalo as the most-penalized team in the NFL. How bad was it? The Bucs and the Bills each were hit with 143 accepted penalties. Even last year’s Super Bowl participants, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, didn’t reach that number despite playing three more games.
Koetter, assistant coaches and players all cited the resolution of that problem as a focal point of 2016 since offseason workouts. At the Week 6 bye, all those aforementioned Buccaneers are doing a decent job delivering on that objective. Tampa Bay is committing fewer than seven accepted penalties per game, putting the team around the middle of the league in that statistical category. Stretching that average throughout an entire 16-game season would result in about 109 penalties, or a nearly 24 percent decrease.
It’s not all good news, though. The total number of penalties are down, but too many of the ones the Bucs are getting called for are coming at damaging moments. Fans don’t have to look far to find these examples. Monday night’s road win in Carolina contained a few and Koetter addressed the topic during his last press conference of the week Tuesday.
“Critical. We had five penalties on the game, which, as a number, if you just threw out five penalties, you’d say, ‘Heck, that’s not bad,’ ” Koetter said. “But the timing of our penalties was not good. We had two third-and-1 penalties. That first one was a third-and-1, they called us correctly for illegal procedure, followed up by a sack. So we were right on the verge of field goal range, got knocked out.
“The second time that happened, we had third-and-1 on the 5-yard line and we had them lined up just like we wanted them to. Man, a great chance to punch it in and go up 10-0, and we get the back-to-back penalties. The second one, the delay of game, would be my fault. And then we miss a field goal, so we get no points.
“We didn’t throw it much there in the first [drive], but I think the second pass we threw all night – Jameis [Winston] makes a beautiful scramble play, hits Vincent [Jackson] for a 20-something-yard gain – and we get a holding call. And then obviously our defense stops them and we get the roughing the punter call. So the number of penalties was good, the critical level of those penalties was not good and that leads to the fact that when you’re plus-four in turnovers, it shouldn’t come down to a game-winning field goal.”
With five players on the field for every offensive snap, the offensive line is usually a team’s most-penalized unit. This year’s Bucs line, however, could do the team a big favor by cleaning up its mistakes. Last year’s line accumulated 46 of Tampa Bay’s 143 penalties, or 31.5 percent of the total. This year’s line is accountable for 15 of the team’s 34 penalties, or 44.1 percent of the total.
Having a particularly rough start to the season is right tackle Demar Dotson. The veteran’s six penalties have him tied with New York Giants left tackle Ereck Florwers as the NFL’s second-most penalized player behind Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Against Carolina, it was Doston who wiped out Winston’s 26-yard, first-down completion to Jackson.