It always seems to be the story of Bucs beating Bucs.

It was the story when newly-hired head coach Bruce Arians coined the term at his introductory press conference, although the act itself has seemed to plague Tampa Bay since their inception in 1976.

It was the story when quarterback Jameis Winston threw back-breaking pick-sixes in losing efforts against San Francisco and Atlanta. It was the story when Tampa Bay’s defense allowed 22 second-half points against the Giants. It was nearly the story when back-to-back timeouts put Carolina within a half-yard of the goal line in Week 2. But part of the story throughout the entire season was the cumulative self-sabotage all season long when looking at Tampa Bay’s penalty numbers.

In total flags drawn, the Bucs landed themselves tied for the most penalized team in the league alongside Jacksonville with 158, while Tampa Bay also finished fourth in the league with 1,111 yards surrendered via penalties.

To put that number in perspective, 1,111 yards allowed via penalties would account for nearly 22 percent of Winston’s league-leading 5,109 passing yards in 2019 and Bucs’ running backs have only reached 1,111 rushing yards in a single season on two occasions since 2006. And these yards are all provided to Tampa Bay’s opponents free of charge.

Of the 10 most frequently penalized teams in the NFL last season, only three reached the playoffs. The Bucs’ divisional rival New Orleans Saints finished fifth in the league in total flags, the Kansas City Chiefs finished seventh and the Buffalo Bills finished 10th.

These teams have shown that while you can win with high penalty numbers, you’re often winning despite them as New Orleans and Kansas City boast two of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, while Buffalo allowed the second-fewest points per game in the NFL last season.

In Tampa Bay’s six most penalized games by net yardage, the Bucs finished 3-3 in those contests with five of them being decided by six points or fewer and two of them resulting in overtime losses. The team’s three victories came by three points over the Colts, 15 points over the Rams and three points in a come-from-behind win over the Cardinals.

Not one player can be singled out as the issue however, as the penalties occurred all across the Bucs’ roster. Cornerback Carlton Davis was the fifth-most penalized defensive player in the league with 12 total flags drawn, but just 9 of Davis’ penalties were accepted. Davis’ 111 yards surrendered via accepted penalties also put him at the seventh-highest such mark amongst all defensive players in the NFL.

Behind Davis you’ll find outside linebacker Shaq Barrett who drew 11 total penalties, offensive tackle Demar Dotson with 10 total penalties and Winston who drew six flags on his own. Jason Pierre-Paul and cornerback Jamel Dean also had five penalties each, depsite only playing significant snaps for just a portion of the Bucs’ season.

But hope isn’t lost for this young Tampa Bay squad as teams have generally had low penalty numbers and high win totals while under Arians’ leadership.

In 2012, when Arians took over as interim head coach in Indianapolis before leaving for Arizona in 2013, the Cardinals were the 17th most frequently penalized team in the NFL while his Colts team ranked 14th and finished 9-3 over his 12-game reign.

In 2013, Arizona dropped to 20th in the league and watched their record moved from 5-11 to 10-6.

In 2014, Arizona finished 18th en route to a 11-5 record and in 2015 the Cardinals were the third-least penalized team in the league, finishing the season at 13-3.

In 2016 and 2017 the penalties rose as the number of wins dipped, finishing with the 14th- and ninth-most total flags drawn across the league, respectively.

So as the Bucs head into 2020 there will be an “X” on their back and it won’t strictly be due to the acquisition of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the media fanfare that came with it. The Bucs, specifically their most highly-penalized players, will have to play each game knowing that a propensity for committing penalties lives in the mind of referees.

Penalties are free yards and arguably the most avoidable mistake a player or team can make. Now it will be up to them to eliminate those mistakes if the Bucs truly want to live up to their expectations of a deep playoff run.

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About the Author: Taylor Jenkins

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fredster
7 months ago

They should have 10 less penalties with old Dot gone lol. He was great guy and cool story but the guy should Not have been a starter last couple years should been back up. His run blocking was non existent. Don’t think he could bend down anymore too tall.

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danielob
Reply to  fredster
7 months ago

I agree about Dotson’s penalties, they always seemed to come at the worst time, but I wonder how many his replacement, Wilks will get. Rookies that need to work on their techniques tend to get holding penalties until their game cleans up. I can remember when Mike Evans was on the receiving end of too many OPI calls even when it looked like he was legitimately fighting for the ball, the refs had it out for him for awhile, probably told to look out for it during the game amongst themselves. He has over-come it now, unless the refs have… Read more »

BigSombrero
7 months ago

Penalties are a funny stat. They simply don’t lead teams to victory, contrary to popular logical opinion.
 
The Seahawks regularly make the playoffs and are always one of the most penalized teams.
 
Last year, the LEAST penalized teams in the top 7 were Indianapolis(1st), Carolina, Minnesota, NY Giants, New England, Cincinatti, and Miami.
 
The bottom 7 MOST penalized teams were Tampa(32nd), Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, Arizona, New Orleans, and Atlanta.
 
One playoff victory from both groups.

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Dave
Reply to  BigSombrero
7 months ago

Sort of agree. Agree that it doesn’t make you a winning team. It just gives you a better chance of winning if you don’t beat yourself. Leading or being near the top in most penalties committed makes life very difficult on you most times. But it’s definitely not an end all be all by any means. And Seattle being near the top every year is true. Pete Carroll used to tell the legion of Boom to “grab as much as you can. They can’t call everything”

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NC Greenbeard
Reply to  Dave
7 months ago

It is about not beating yourself, I agree. Would be curious to see if Sombrero’s stats hold up over a bigger sample size. I think a big part of it is WHEN the penalties occur. Defensive holding on 3rd&27 from the 50 late in a tie game is much more likely to be a killer than… say offsides when you have them 2nd and 7 on their own 15 right before halftime and you’re up 21. Any penalty can be costly but the first is much more likely to cost you a game. Good teams make fewer of the first… Read more »

BigSombrero
Reply to  NC Greenbeard
7 months ago

I fully agree that WHEN the penalty occurs is a lot more likely to influence the outcome of a game. I didn’t know how to correlate that to a statistic in short order. End of the game is one thing, but I saw multiple times last year where the Bucs made a stop on 3rd and 8(or whatever), only to get a defensive holding called against them. The opposing team gets a first down, the defense has to stay on the field and eventually gets scored on while also using precious energy.

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Dave
Reply to  NC Greenbeard
7 months ago

100% agree on that. Penalties as a whole are a very misleading stat. Specifically total penalty yards. Not all penalties are created equal. Some examples. You could have a run for no gain, and also commit a hold. But the opponent decided to accept the hold. It’s considered a penalty, and 10 total penalty yards. However, how costly was that penalty? You can argue that taking a 1st and 20 is more detrimental than a 2nd and 10. Depending which coach you ask. Or from a total yards aspect, a team could have 8 penalties for 55 yards. And their… Read more »

BigSombrero
Reply to  BigSombrero
7 months ago

Taylor’s headline said that under Arians, the trend will reverse, but under Arians last year, the Bucs were 32nd in the league.

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Spitfire
Reply to  BigSombrero
7 months ago

That’s why you gotta read the article. The point was in certain cases teams were high in penalties before he got their and/or in his first year but then they improved, resume LT after the teams got used to the system.

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Buc stops here
7 months ago

Nice story. Wish they did a story on how many players in Tampa run the wrong route compared to other NFL teams. It was obviously a problem this past year as even Arians said not all the interceptions thrown were Winston’s fault. Hopefully that will decline with Brady at QB.

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