Bucs were NFL's most improved team in penalties
When Dirk Koetter took over as the Bucs' head coach, one of his priorities was making an improvement with penalties, where Tampa Bay tied for the NFL lead in total penalties in 2015 and ranked second-worst in penalty yards.
The Bucs certainly accomplished that goal -- not only reducing their own flags but drawing more from their opponents. Under Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, the Bucs made the biggest gains in the NFL in penalty differential and especially in penalty yard differential, improving by a net 29.4 yards per game.
A year ago, the Bucs had 336 more penalty yards than their opponents, a margin that ranked 30th in the NFL; in 2016, they had 135 fewer penalty yards than their opponents, which ranked sixth in the league, for a net improvement of 471 yards. The Browns (+444) were the only team to come with 100 yards of that improvement. It's even more dramatic in penalty differential -- in 2015, the Bucs were the NFL's worst team in penalty differential, getting 39 more flags than their opponents; in 2016, they had 12 fewer flags than their opponents. That's a net change of 51 penalties -- the next closest in the NFL is Detroit, at plus-30.
There's certainly room to get better again -- the Bucs dropped from 8.9 penalties per game to 6.8, which ranked 18th in the league; they dropped from 74.7 penalty yards to 57.9 penalty yards, which ranked 19th in the league.
Where did they make progress with fewer flags? All over the field. With offensive holding -- the most commonly called penalty in the NFL -- the Bucs dropped from 35 accepted penalties to 26. Offensive line remained a concern with penalties, as the Bucs were the only team in the NFL to have three offensive linemen draw 10-plus total penalties (Donovan Smith 13, Demar Dotson 12, Ali Marpet 10).
On defensive, only two Bucs players had more than two accepted penalties all season -- Chris Conte (6) and Gerald McCoy (4). Linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander played a combined 1,925 snaps and had three penalties between them; cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes and safety Bradley McDougald also played nearly every down and had two accepted penalties each. On defensive penalties at the line of scrimmage, the Bucs went from 19 penalties for encroachment, offsides and neutral zone infractions to just nine, cutting those penalties in half; Gerald McCoy cut those penalties from six to three himself.
The Bucs significantly reduced their 15-yard penalties on defense -- after nine unnecessary roughness flags last season, the Bucs defense had just two in 2016. Defensive end Will Gholston, who had four such penalties in 2015, had none this season. Receiver Mike Evans, who had three 15-yard penalties last season, had none, and his offensive pass interference penalties dropped from five to three.