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FAB 1. Bucs Won’t Beat Themselves In 2020
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the best team in the NFL last year in a couple of categories – but some of those categories weren’t necessarily good.
While the Bucs led the league in passing yards with 5,127, passing plays over 20 yards with 75, rushing defense with 73.8 yards per game allowed, and rushing yards allowed per play with a 3.3 average, Tampa Bay was tops in penalties committed and had the most turnovers of any team in the league.
Although Cincinnati had a worse record at 2-14 than the 7-9 Bucs did, the Bengals were just a bad football team without enough talent to compete. Cincinnati started the season 0-11 and suffered six losses by 10 points or more, including four by two touchdowns or more.
The Bucs only had three losses by 10 points or more last year and six of Tampa Bay’s defeats came by a touchdown or less. Tampa Bay lost two overtime games to Seattle and Atlanta, in addition to a one-point home loss against the New York Giants and a three-point home loss to Houston.
One less mistake in a game here or there and the Bucs could have been 9-7, or perhaps 10-6 and in the playoffs as a wild card.
The first rule of football is to not beat yourself. The way to do that is to avoid turnovers and penalties. Let’s examine both from the 2019 Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay ranked 28th in turnover margin with minus-13. The Bucs had a league-high 41 turnovers, which came from a league-leading 30 interceptions and 11 lost fumbles. On defense, Tampa Bay recorded just 12 interceptions and recovered 16 fumbles to combine for 28 takeaways.
To put those numbers in perspective, New England ranked first in turnover margin with plus-21. The Patriots had only 15 turnovers, which came on nine interceptions and six lost fumbles. New England’s defense had a league-high 25 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries to account for 36 takeaways.
The best team in the NFC South last year was New Orleans, which was second in the NFL with a plus-15 turnover margin. The Saints had a league-low eight turnovers, including six interceptions and just two lost fumbles, which was the best in the league. Defensively, New Orleans accounted for 23 takeaways, including 13 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
At the end of his first season in Tampa Bay, head coach Bruce Arians said that the Bucs wouldn’t be able to make the playoffs in 2020 if they didn’t stop turning the ball over.
“You’re not going anywhere – you’re going home,” Arians said. “You’re going home when you lead the league in giveaways. You’re never going to play in the playoffs unless you’re playing for the Steelers in the ‘70s.”
Not re-signing quarterback Jameis Winston, whose 30 interceptions were the most in the league, and whose seven pick-sixes set a new NFL record, in favor of adding Tom Brady should help the Bucs stop beating themselves. Brady, the NFL’s greatest quarterback, has never thrown more than 14 interceptions in any of his 20 years in the league. The six-time Super Bowl champion hasn’t thrown more than 11 INTs over the last eight years, and threw just eight last year in New England.
If Winston had thrown just half as many interceptions last year the Bucs would have been plus-2 in the turnover margin, which would have been tied with Indianapolis for 12th best in the league. By comparison, San Francisco and Kansas City made it to the Super Bowl last year with plus-4 and plus-8 turnover margins, respectively.
Due to his vast NFL experience, Brady seems more than capable of throwing 15 or fewer interceptions this year – even while learning a new offense in Tampa Bay. Swapping out the turnover-prone Winston, who also had six fumbles, for Brady should go a long way in helping the Bucs not beat themselves in 2020.
Tampa Bay should also make some headway in the penalty department. Arians has a reputation for not having penalty-ridden teams, and PewterReport.com’s Taylor Jenkins documented that fact in a recent article.
The Bucs committed the most penalties in the league last year, getting flagged 134 times for 1,111 yards – two penalties ahead of the Jaguars, who were penalized 132 times for 1,169 yards. Tampa Bay had 158 total flags called against them, which was tied with Jacksonville for the most in the league.
What concerned Arians were the 56 pre-snap penalties, which was the second most in the league behind Houston’s 57 last year. Pre-snap penalties are a sign of a lack of focus and concentration. The Bucs had six delays of game penalties, three illegal formation infractions and one illegal shift that weren’t assigned to any one player.
Here were the Top 10 most penalized Bucs in 2019. The total numbers represent only the amount of accepted penalties.
OLB Shaq Barrett – 10 (5 neutral zone infraction, 5 offside, 1 facemask)
RT Demar Dotson – 10 (5 holding, 5 false start)
CB Carlton Davis – 9 (5 defensive pass interference, 4 defensive holding, 1 illegal use of hands, 1 facemask, 1 disqualification)
QB Jameis Winston – 6 (4 intentional grounding, 1 false start, 1 illegal forward pass)
LT Donovan Smith – 5 (5 holding, 2 false start, 1 illegal use of hands)
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 5 (3 offside, 2 neutral zone infraction, 1 illegal blindside block)
TE O.J. Howard – 5 (2 offensive pass interference, 2 holding, 1 false start)
CB Jamel Dean – 5 (2 holding, 1 illegal block above the waist, 1 illegal contact, 1 pass interference)
DT Ndamukong Suh – 5 (3 neutral zone infraction, 1 holding, 1 illegal use of hands)
LG Ali Marpet – 4 (3 holding, 2 false starts)
Here are some observations about the number of penalties above.
Barrett and Pierre-Paul had a high number of offside and neutral zone infractions from trying to anticipate and jump the snap count. That’s an acceptable tradeoff when that duo combines for 28 sacks and eight forced fumbles.
Dotson, who is usually among the most penalized players in Tampa Bay each year, is gone. So there could be a chance for fewer penalties at right tackle if Tristan Wirfs comes in using great technique as a rookie.
Davis was flagged nine times during the first eight games of the season, but only three times during the final eight games, which is a sign of maturity and improved technique. Let’s see if Davis can continue to cut down on penalties in 2020.
Winston had six penalties last year, including four intentional grounding calls, while new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady had four intentional grounding calls in New England. So there is a chance Tampa Bay might be a little less penalized at the quarterback position in 2020 due to Brady’s experience.
Two players that made huge strides in reducing their number of penalties in 2019 were center Ryan Jensen and tight end Antony Auclair. Jensen led the Bucs with 11 penalties in 2018, including five holding penalties and four for unnecessary roughness.
Last year, Jensen had just three penalties, including two false starts, one holding penalty. There were no unnecessary roughness flags on Jensen in 2019.
Auclair had eight penalties in 2018, including four holding, two false starts and two unnecessary roughness calls. Last year, Auclair only had just three false start calls.
Football is a contact sport and penalties are going to happen. But Arians wants a smarter Bucs football team in 2020.
“I pride myself on having a smart football team and we were not a smart football team,” Arians said. “[That is] one of the areas we will address this offseason.”
The Bucs were good enough to win a few more games last year and avoid a losing season for the third year in a row. But committing the most turnovers and penalties in the league were self-inflicted wounds Tampa Bay could not recover from on certain Sundays.
“Talent was never an issue with this football team,” Arians said. “I said that from the day I took the job that we have enough talent to win. We should have easily had 10 wins, but we beat ourselves.”
It was ironic that the Bucs were only penalized three times, which was a season-low, against the Falcons in Tampa Bay’s 28-22 overtime loss to Atlanta to end the year. But the Bucs defense allowed a 35-yard touchdown catch to Falcons lineman Ty Sambrailo on a tackle eligible play, missed three field goals in regulation, and were minus-2 in the turnover margin, including a costly pick-six by Winston on the first play of overtime to seal Tampa Bay’s fate.
“It’s a shame,” Arians said after the game. “This was a game we talked about all year of us beating us in all three phases, and we did. There wasn’t, ‘Hey, he lost the game. Fire him.’ No, because it was offense, defense, and special teams. We will not beat ourselves next year.”
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