The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not been quite as good as we all thought they would be heading into the year. Yes, they're 3-2 and looked great in their wins while their losses were close games. The injury bug has hit the team's skill position players harder than most, which is saying something considering how widespread key injuries have been in the NFL this year. It just hasn't been the effortless dominance that was presumed after Tom Brady joined Bruce Arians, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans.
The biggest reason for this is not that Brady is getting old, although he may or may not have forgotten it was fourth down last Thursday. It isn't that the team needs time to mesh, even if there are moments where it's obvious training camp would have been a big help. No, it's been the penalties that are killing the Bucs.
Greg Auman of The Athletic threw up this tidbit of information today that proves that point:
Overall, the Bucs are tied for the most penalties in the league through five weeks. No other team has lost more yardage due to penalties. They currently average 8.4 penalties per game, tied for worst in the NFL alongside the Arizona Cardinals. For all the talent they have, basic execution and discipline are killing them right now. This is all coming during a season when officials have been throwing flags at a historically low rate, too. For whatever reason, the Bucs just can't help but hurt themselves.
This has been a problem for Arians coached teams in recent years. Last year, the Bucs averaged 8.3 penalties per game, which was also worst in the NFL. In 2017, Arians' final season as the Cardinals head coach, they ranked 22nd in the league in penalties per game with 6.9. Arians is obviously not a man who keeps his thoughts to himself, and has undoubtedly expressed his displeasure at the quantity of self-inflicted wounds regardless of which team he's coaching.
But imagine, if you will, what might happen if the Bucs managed to get it together and limited their mistakes to something like Arians' 2015 Arizona team, which averaged only 5.8 penalties per game. That total ranked third in the NFL that season. That mark would be league-average this year, but still a massive improvement. As things stand, the Bucs average 365 yards and 27 points per game. Those are both average to slightly above-average numbers through five weeks of the 2020 season, and they're leaving a lot more than that on the table with these penalties.
Despite constantly undermining themselves, the Bucs are still very much in the race for the NFC South title. There's room for improvement, but this is far from the worst-case scenario. In fact, it is probably encouraging that there is a clear and fixable problem to point to rather than something inexplicable or unquantifiable. It does need to be fixed, though. Too much is left on the field for the Bucs right now, especially with the small margin for error they have while being in the same division as the Saints.
The Bucs are a good team. Penalties have prevented them from working towards greatness. We'll see if Arians can figure it out.