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No easy fix for Buccaneers' penalties

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the most-penalized team in the league.

That's no surprise to anyone who's been watching Bucs games. With 134 total penalties, they lead the league by a massive margin -- no other team has even 120 penalties, and the Kansas City Chiefs have the fewest in the NFL with just 66 -- less than half of what the Bucs have racked up. To make matters worse, both their total penalty yardage (812) and their nullified yardage (311) lead the league. As does the amount of stalled drives as a result of penalties: 30.

This effect was obviously visible against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bucs managed 13 total penalties for 94 yards, nullifying 83 yards, and giving opponents two free first downs.

The single biggest reason for those penalties is the offensive discipline. False start penalties account for 16 of the team's 134 penalties. Add in Delay of Game, Illegal Formation, Illegal Motion and Offensive 12 On-field, and simple procedural penalties account for 32 of the team's 134 penalties. You'll get a few of those penalties every season, but the Bucs have three of them in every game!

The second-biggest reason for this penalty yardage is the offensive line. Offensive holding has been called 28 times, mostly because the offensive line isn't very good: when you're beat, you either hold the defender, or you let the quarterback get hit. Holding doesn't occur because of a lack of discipline (usually), but because of a lack of competence. And even a glimpse at the team's offensive line this season will tell you they're incompetent.

This incompetence was obvious against the Bengals. In a game that came down to a single point, the Bucs had six procedural penalties on offense, including a fatal 12-men-on-the-field flag to wipe out what would likely have been a game-winning field goal attempt. They also added another three offensive holding penalties, with one occurring crucially as the Bucs had just gotten into field goal range at the end of the game -- pushing them back out again.

That sort of performance is unacceptable, of course, but it's also not that easy to fix. The Bucs simply need better offensive linemen, but the fact that only a handful of offensive players were even on the roster before 2014 presents a problem -- that lack of familiarity leads to coordination problems, and ensuing penalties. Declaring penalties to just be a discipline problem is too easy, and suggests a solution (be more disciplined!) that's not actually a method to solving the problem.

As with many other problems on offense, lack of talent is a part of the issue. Lack of familiarity is, too. New schemes, new coordinators, new coaches lead to those problems, and changing schemes again, changing coaches again, changing coordinators again (though likely a necessity) won't instantly make the penalties go away.

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