FAB 4. Bucs Penalties Increased In 2018
The Buccaneers had more talent in 2018 than they did the previous year, yet still wound up with an identical 5-11 record. How did that happen?
There are a myriad of reasons why, but one of the few mentioned was the high number of penalties Tampa Bay committed last year. It was ironic that former Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter had t-shirts made up during the offseason that read “Discipline Driven,” yet the team lacked discipline through most of the year.
Legendary Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin once told me that the first rule of football was to not beat yourself. That means turnovers and penalties – self-inflicted wounds.
The Big Takeaway
Tampa Bay had more penalties for more yards last year than at any other time in the brief Koetter era. The Bucs were penalized 117 times for 975 yards, which ranked 25th in the NFL. Tampa Bay drew 13 more penalties for 180 more yards than it had during the 2017 campaign when the Bucs had 104 penalties for 795 yards and ranked 11th in the league.
In 2016, Koetter’s first year at the helm, the Bucs had just 102 penalties for 863 yards, which ranked ninth in the NFL.
To put the penalties in perspective, this year’s Super Bowl participants, New England and the Los Angeles Rams, ranked fourth (93 penalties for 744 yards) and seventh (96 penalties for 939 yards) in the league in terms of infractions, respectively.
Stats That Count
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians ran a more disciplined ship out in Arizona, finishing inside the Top 15 in penalties in four out of the five years he led the Cardinals.
Arizona (10-6) 2013: 96 for 744 – tied for 11th
Arizona (11-5) 2014: 98 for 745 – eighth
Arizona (13-3) 2015: 105 for 840 – tied for ninth
Arizona (7-8-1) 2016: 105 for 889 yards – 13th
Arizona (8-8) 2017: 111 for 880 yards – 19th
Having fewer penalties is not an automatic sign of a winning team, but generally the less mistakes a team makes, the better. Yet Tampa Bay had 10 games with seven penalties or more and was 4-6 in those games, while the Bucs were 1-5 in games where they actually showed more discipline with less than seven penalties.
Oftentimes the timing of the penalties and the type – pass interference vs. a false start – can make the biggest difference.
The Bucs had more holding calls (28) than any other penalty called in 2018. That was up six from the 22 holding penalties in 2017.
Tampa Bay had 16 false starts, which was down three from 19 the year prior. The Bucs had nine defensive pass interference flags after having just six in 2017.
And the Buccaneers doubled their number of unnecessary roughness fouls (eight) from the year before (four), while nearly doubling their number off offside calls (seven) from the 2017 season (four).
Here is a look at Tampa Bay’s guiltiest parties when it comes to penalties accepted against. Numbers in parenthesis are the number of penalties originally called
C Jensen: 11 penalties (11) – 5 holding, 4 unnecessary roughness, 2 false starts
TE Auclair: 8 penalties (8) – 4 holding, 2 unnecessary roughness, 2 false starts
RT Dotson: 7 penalties (10) – 4 false starts, 4 holding, 1 facemask, 1 illegal block
CB Davis: 7 penalties (9) – 3 DPI, 2 holding, 2 illegal contact, 1 facemask, 1 taunting
LT Smith: 6 penalties (7) – 4 holding, 2 false starts, 1 illegal block
RG Benenoch: 6 penalties (7) – 5 holding, 2 false starts
The FABulous Ending
The expectation is that the Bucs will become a more disciplined team under Arians, whose Cardinals teams were among the least-penalized teams in the league. Jensen, the team’s center, needs to keep his temper under control as his four unnecessary roughness penalties cost the Bucs at least 60 yards of offense.
A player like Auclair, who is primarily a special teams player and a blocker on offense, must reduce his high number of penalties or become the kind of player that Arians makes an example of and releases if they continue.