Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston led the NFL in passing with a franchise-record 5,109 yards. He was also second in the NFL in passing touchdowns with a career-high 33 in 2019 – also a Tampa Bay record. But Winston also led the league in interceptions, and had the dubious honor of becoming the NFL’s first 30-30 QB to throw at least 30 TDs and 30 INTs in a single season.
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said a couple of times during the 2019 campaign that not all of Winston’s interceptions were the quarterback’s fault. In fact, at times, he would indicate that nearly half of those turnovers weren’t Winston’s fault – much to the delight of Winston’s supporters, and much to the chagrin of Winston’s detractors.
So just how many of Winston’s 30 interceptions happened because of poor decisions by Tampa Bay’s controversial quarterback? Let’s go to the league’s All-22 film to breakdown all 30 INTs in great detail, examining as much context as we possibly can to find an answer as close to the truth as we can get.
Buckle up, Bucs fans. This is going to be one wild ride with a surprising outcome.
The All-22: Winston’s 30 INTs
Shown above is Winston’s first interception of the season against the San Francisco 49ers – it won’t be the last from this game that you will see. In this clip, the Bucs were in a first-and-10 situation on the first play of the drive ahead 7-6 on the scoreboard with just less than three minutes left in the first half.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin motioned pre-snap, which allowed Winston to recognize the coverage concept. With the single-high safety, this could either be Cover 1 or Cover 3, but after the snap, the cornerbacks playing with outside leverage and the linebackers dropping back into hook/curl zones told us it was Cover 3. Given that Winston knew the Bucs were going to have three receiving options to his right (1 WR, 1 TE, 1 FB), there was a high percentage that one of them would find a hole between the hook/curl zones of the linebackers, so that’s where the progression started.
Winston’s hot read on this play was with Godwin as the No. 1. But as cornerback Richard Sherman stared him down, this forced Winston to look elsewhere. He found tight end O.J. Howard in a soft, albeit tight, location in one of the middle zones and hit him in the hands. Howard let the ball fly off his hands and it was picked off.
This turnover was obviously not on Winston, as it was more the fault of Howard. However, I did want to point something out. I feel as though people who watch this clip might see running back Peyton Barber with a lot of space around him on the short left side of the field as the ball was thrown to Howard and wish that Winston threw it to Barber instead. For this, you have to understand progressions. Winston was not going to look that way. The play was not designed for him to turn his head that far unless things went very bad on the right side. Barber was likely fourth in the progression there. Because of this, it is unrealistic to expect Winston to look and throw that way, even if there was a man open.
Fault/INT Counter: 0/1
Here’s interception No. 2 on the season and No. 2 from the San Francisco game. In the clip, the Bucs were in a second-and-13 situation during their first possession of the second half after going down on the scoreboard 13-7 following a 49ers touchdown drive to open up the third quarter.
From the defense’s side, this is a zone blitz. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw joined the four down linemen in their attack of the pocket as a late rusher coming through the B gap. The added pressure did force Winston to get the ball out his hand early.
On the offensive side, the player Winston was throwing to on the outside was Barber. Barber really should not have been put in this situation. The Bucs rarely have their running backs in true receiver alignments – especially not Barber and especially not at the sideline like that. Because of his unfamiliarity with routes at the sideline, Barber over ran his route, hence why the pass looked so far off its target.
This was another giveaway that was not on Winston, but it did raise questions as to why Barber was out there in the first place lined up against a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback like Sherman. I assume it was because they did not sub from the play before, but even if that was the case, why call a play where Barber is a target? Mike Evans was the primary read on this play as the slot player on the right side of the line who was running a post over the middle. But due to the quick pressure, Winston was forced to get the ball out before that route could develop. That’s when Barber (the No. 2) became the hot read and the ball went his way right at the time he was running a poor route.
Fault/INT Counter: 0/2
On Winston’s third interception of Week 1, the Bucs were set to start their two minute drill down 23-17 with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter. The play above comes from their own 21 yard line on first-and-10 in the first play of the drive with 79 yards to go.
The Bucs opted to go with a screen play to open up the drive. Though Tampa Bay did have a long way to go and the defense knew they would likely face more passes than runs, calling a screen on first down is a bit risky. Normally screen are reserved for situations where you know the defense is going to come after the QB, whether that’s because the team notices they’ve been getting more and more aggressive in their pursuit of the pocket or the down and distance calls for a guaranteed pass play. Calling a screen on first down where the defense is more cautious and alert means defensive linemen and linebackers are less likely to over pursue.
That’s what happened in the play above. The two guys who ruined this for the Bucs were 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (99) and Greenlaw (57). Buckner recognized the screen pass once he saw Bucs running back Dare Ogunbowale transition from his decoy blocking stance to a delayed route. When he saw it, he stopped moving forward and began to back up with Ogunbowale. With Buckner being 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds, Ogunbowale had to decide whether or not to cut in front of Buckner or go around. A few yards farther down the field, Greenlaw also recognized the screen and blew right by Jensen’s block to cut off Ogunbowale as well.
The negative result of this play was a result of a few things. Questionable play-calling in the situation and, as a result, Buckner and Greenlaw making good plays on the screen were out of Winston’s control. You could say Winston should’ve just thrown it into the dirt, which I would hear and wouldn’t fault you for asking for such a thought process. But his offensive line also did not help him at all on that play, making it tough to see everything the way he may have needed to to come to that conclusion.
However, this was not a “must throw” kind of play. It was first down. The Bucs still had the two minute warning and a timeout. Even a sack making it second-and-20 at the two minute warning would have been fine knowing they were in four-down territory. There were parts of this play that certainly didn’t help Winston, but he just can’t throw this ball like that.
Fault/INT Counter: 1/3
After a week where Winston threw for 200 yards, one touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Thursday Night Football win over Carolina, we fast forward to Week 3 back at Raymond James Stadium as the Bucs were in a heated battle with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones – making his first start – and the New York Giants. In the play above, the Bucs were ahead 28-25 facing a third-and-5 with just under 12 minutes to go in the game.
There’s not much to say here, it was just a terrible throw. Watch the end zone version of this one to see why this throw was so off target. As Winston stepped up in the pocket, he was in no way square to his target, and in as unorthodox of a way as he could, let it fly so far behind wide receiver Mike Evans that Evans couldn’t even get a hand on it as it sailed into the defender’s arms.
Fault/INT Counter: 2/4
The following week Winston’s fifth interception of the season came during one of his best games of the year. On the road against the reigning NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams, Winston threw for 385 yards on a 62 percent completion percentage with four touchdowns and one interception. Winston’s lone pick from this game came fresh off back-to-back touchdown passes where the Buccaneers were in a third-and-10 situation up 45-34 with 8:25 left in the game.
This play, where it was partially Winston’s fault, was a fantastic play by Rams Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters. The Bucs were in a “trips” look with three wide receivers to the left. Before the snap, the Rams appeared to be in some sort of 2-high coverage, either Cover 2 or Cover 4 (quarters). After the snap, it looks a little confusing since the field safety sprints up top. But the coverage is still just Cover 2, that safety just moved over there fast to better adjust for the three receivers to once side.
Because of the way it looked, Peters making a move to stop his backpedal and cover the curl route at the sticks was what he was supposed to do in a Cover 2 zone assignment. With Mike Evans in the slot and Bobo Wilson on the outside, I have to believe the primary on this play was to hit Evans on the out at the sticks for the first down — though we can’t be sure there because Winston is just looking in that general direction the whole time. When Winston realized Peters was close to Evans at the sticks, he went for something bigger.
At the throw, Winston was trying to hit the outside receiver streaking up the sideline in the soft spot beyond the corner’s zone but before the safety’s – also called the “honey hole.” But when Peters realized Winston was loading up for the deep throw down the sideline, he smoothly got back into his retreat and was able to cut off the pass – an aggressive, savvy move by him to read and react like that.
Honey hole throws require a lot of zip on passes. Winston didn’t have it there, but there are reasons why. Back in the pocket, Winston was not able to step into this throw the way he wanted to. As he was set to release the ball, his plant foot actually lands right on the foot of offensive tackle Donovan Smith, as to disrupt his base. He also was not able to finish his throwing motion, as his arm was hit just as he released the ball. These are all very valid reasons why this pass did not have the zip or placement it needed to.
Knowing that Winston’s platform to throw was compromised, I cannot blame him for not putting the needed velocity on this pass. Therefore it’s not on him.
Fault/INT Counter: 2/5
Following the victory over the Rams, Winston put together his second turnover-less performance of the season in Week 5 against the Saints, but that one came with a loss. That brings us to the Bucs’ Week 6 match-up against the Carolina Panthers in London – a game that was probably Winston’s worst game of the year.
Winston’s first of five interceptions in this game – yes, that’s right, five, so buckle up – came on the first play from scrimmage. In it, the Bucs were in a first-and-10 situation with the full 15 minutes to go in the first quarter with the ball at their own 25 yard line.
The Bucs were in 12 personnel with a tight end on each side of the line of scrimmage, and to counter what appeared to be a simple run formation to get the game going, Carolina went aggressive with a far off Cover 3 look in the secondary and five players at the line of scrimmage. But the Bucs didn’t run the ball. They didn’t even pass out of play action (they probably should have). At the snap, the Bucs ran two curl-flat concepts, one on each side. Each wide receiver was running an 8-yard curl while each tight end came off the line of scrimmage and into the flat out by the sideline.
This concept is a great way to attack Cover 3 when the cornerbacks are in off coverage. The way it works against off Cover 3 is the wide receiver is supposed to run straight at the off corner as fast as he can. He can’t look down at the ground or at the spot where he’s going to turn as to give anything away. He has to make the corner think he could be going deep as to make him continue to retreat to create space. He also has to maintain inside leverage (which Evans did). Meanwhile the flat route is supposed to open up the throwing lane, as it will naturally fade the curl zone defender to the sideline. If you want a good look at what it is supposed to look like and how it is supposed to work, look at the top (right) side of the play where Godwin was running.
But the play didn’t go to Godwin (it wasn’t designed to initially); Evans was the primary. Evans did a good job of running straight up the field towards the cornerback. But as Evans started to run up field, instead of continuing to retreat to keep the potential vertical route in front of him, cornerback James Bradberry veered to the right as Cameron Brate moved into the flat. Then when he saw Winston loading up for Evans, Bradberry was close enough to jump in front of it due to him not retreating like he usually would in that situation – this could just be the result of good film study.
Winston had to put this ball a little to the outside due to how close Luke Kuechly was monitoring the curl route from his zone. However, Winston was far too late in his timing getting rid of this ball, and that is ultimately what allowed Bradberry the time to cut it off.
Fault/INT Counter: 3/6
For Winston’s seventh interception of the season we stay in the game against Carolina (get comfortable, we’ll be here awhile). It was a slow and ugly game, to this point, and in the play above the Bucs were in a third-and-12 situation down 10-7 on the scoreboard with 9:37 left in the first half.
There’s no reason to make a mountain out of a mole hill on this play. The Bucs were in a 3 x 1 set with three receivers to the left side of the field. Knowing Tampa Bay had to travel far to pick up their first down, the Panthers were backed up with plenty of space in what appeared to be a form of Cover 7 with combo coverage. The cornerback to the bottom of the screen appeared to be in a “MEG” (Man Everywhere he Goes) assignment while the rest of the coverage looked to be in a zone match. The nickel corner and the linebacker were in a match assignment with the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, so that’s why you saw the nickel player go to the flat while the linebackers retreated outside first then spun around to help inside.
The Bucs run a good play call here with their three receiving options to the left side. With their two outside options, they split at the sticks combing an out route with an in route to create space. As primary reads, if one of them were give too much space and could be open, that’s what you hit. If not, then spreading like that creates a one-on-one opportunity for the shallow flat route by Howard, which isn’t as ideal since he would then have to have a very good run after the catch to give them a first down, but it’s possible.
Neither the out route or the in route were open at their breaks, so Winston looked to just dump it to Howard and see what he could do with it. However, as Winston started his motion to throw, Panthers pass rusher Bruce Irvin was able to get around Bucs’ backup right tackle Josh Wells and made contact with Winston’s arm as he threw it. You can see from the end zone view that the ball’s spiral was directly affected because of this, and that is why the ball sailed as poorly as it did.
This giveaway was also not primarily on Winston.
Fault/INT Counter: 3/7
After going three-and-out in their first possession of the second half, down double digits on the scoreboard, Tampa Bay found itself in a first-and-10 situation at their own 25 yards line following a Carolina field goal to make the score 20-7 midway through the third quarter.
In the pre-snap, the Bucs aligned themselves in a 12 personnel look with two tight ends to the right side of the line of scrimmage. If you look at the “hat on a hat” probability (meaning how many blockers there were to occupy the amount of defenders in front of them), this looked like a favorable play, if it were a run play. But with the Bucs down two scores, Carolina bet Tampa Bay wouldn’t run the ball, and it didn’t.
On the back end, Carolina had a very aggressive look out of a Cover 3 shell with every player in the box close to the line of scrimmage, while both outside cornerbacks were playing press coverage. The Panthers paired that with extra pressure by bringing a sixth rusher to the pocket, which forced Winston to get the ball out rather quickly. Though running back Ronald Jones II struggled a bit to pick up the extra edge rusher, the line picked up the pressure pretty well.
With the added blitz, the linebackers were in zone coverage. In sort of a savvy move, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly (who eventually made the interception) did some quick math in his head, and that’s how he positioned himself to make this play. Kuechly knew that with the added pressure, the ball was going to likely have to come out quick. That’s why it can be advantageous to ask your cornerbacks to play press coverage paired with pressure. The closer you play, the less window the quarterback has to throw, as long as you can hold it for the amount of time it takes for the rush to get there.
Kuechly took that principle into his zone coverage. Knowing that he had fellow linebacker Shaq Thompson to his right Kuechly decided to jump the tight end, as to get up into the receiver if the route was to the right. If it was to the left, he knew he had help with Thompson. Kuechly also knew that, though there were two tight ends on the line, if both of them went out for a pass, the blitz was going to get home immediately. So he bet only one tight end would go out for a pass, and he was right. That’s why he was able to jump to the right at the snap.
As Bucs Howard ran to the inside, Kuechly communicated the drag route to Thompson, who picked Howard up as he entered Thompson’s zone. With Kuechly jumping to the right at the snap, Winston did not anticipate him being able to come back into the middle, as to undercut the post route. But he did, and that’s how the turnover happened.
A fault of Winston for not recognizing the linebacker, but a good play by Kuechly for a lot of underlying reasons.
Fault/INT Counter: 4/8
For Winston’s ninth interception of the season (and fourth of this game), the Bucs somehow, someway found themselves with a chance, albeit a small one, to still win the game against Carolina. At their own 45 yard line, Tampa Bay was faced with a tough fourth-and-10 with 2:31 left in the game down 37-26. This ball had to be completed past the first down marker or the game was over.
This was a tough situation for Winston, and there were a few factors that went into whether or not it was his fault. First of all, this pass had to be beyond the sticks. It had to be a first down or that was it. Knowing that, Carolina’s defense had complete advantage. The Panthers paired a six-man blitz with far off coverage to keep everything in front of them and give the coverage players the opportunity break on the ball. The offense had to throw the ball far no matter what, yet the extra pressure meant the ball was going to likely come out quick. This was a bad deal for Tampa Bay.
In off Cover 3, both outside cornerbacks were able to have their eyes on Winston the whole time. At the snap, the primary read was to the right side where Tampa Bay had more numbers. Godwin was on the inside and Bobo Wilson was on the outside. The Bucs tried to pair a first down out route from Godwin in the slot with a go route from Wilson on the outside, hoping that the go route would clear the outside Cover 3 corner up the field so Godwin could have space to make a catch at the sideline. But due to the fact that the Panthers pressure forced the ball out early, and knowing that the Bucs were unlikely to go to Wilson 20-30 yards down the field in the most crucial play of the game, the outside cornerback was able to read Winston’s eyes, break on the pass and pick the ball off.
Because of the situation, I am only putting half the blame on Winston here. He had to make a throw or the game was over, the pressure forced him to get it out relatively early, and the defense did not respect Wilson’s go route at all. This really was the only throw he could have made to give the team a chance. However, he could have placed this ball farther to the outside. The bad odds just didn’t work out for them, as you would expect.
Fault/INT Counter: 4.5/9
The Bucs began their final drive of the game still down 37-26 with 1:12 left in the game and zero timeouts. Barring a quick touchdown, a successful 2-point conversion, a successful onside kick and enough time to get into field goal range again, this game was over. After back-to-back catches by Godwin to get them into the red zone, the Bucs went hurry up with 28 second left in the quarter (the game was over).
Against soft quarters coverage, Winston just tried to throw a ball up there for the 6-foot-5 Evans to be able to go up and maybe grab over the defender. But with the defender totally ready for it, he was able to come down with it before Evans could even turn to fight for it. If we’re being picky, this ball should have been fired to the very back of the end zone for Evans to either toe-tap catch in the back or no one could catch it at all. For that, I’ll say this is half to blame on him. But I cannot give Winston full blame here due to the lose-lose situation he was in before the ball was even snapped. Evans admitted he didn’t have a great game, and didn’t give great effort on this final throw.
Fault/INT Counter: 5/10
After the disaster of a game against Carolina, the Bucs traveled to Tennessee fresh off their Bye Week. This game ended up being a loss for Tampa Bay by the score of 27-23, in which Winston threw for over 300 yards with two touchdowns but had a 48 percent completion percentage and two more interceptions. This was also the game where head coach Bruce Arians said after the game that, “Jameis didn’t throw one damn interception that was his fault. His receivers let him down today.”
In the play above we find the Bucs in a second-and-13 situation with 1:22 left in the first quarter where they are down 7-3 on the scoreboard. Looking to take a shot down the field on second-and-long, Winston loaded up for Godwin, who was in the slot of a 2 x 1 set with numbers to the weak side. The Titans appeared to be in off quarters coverage with each member of the secondary playing with their backs to the sideline. The Bucs’ two outside receivers both ran curl routes to the sticks, and when Godwin turned on a curl route, too, that made us think that perhaps this was an “All Curls” concept where all four receivers were supposed to run curl routes at the first down market, hoping one finds a soft spot in between zone coverage.
But when Winston threw this ball, it was way over Godwin’s head, so much so that it didn’t appear to be a regular miss of accuracy, but rather a miscommunication on what route Godwin was supposed to run. Remember, the Bucs have option routes in Arians’ offense, which is something that Dirk Koetter’s playbook didn’t have.
Though we don’t know the exact play call, Arians’ comments after the game tell us that it wasn’t an All Curl concept, and that Godwin was likely supposed to go vertical up the seam in the middle, as was Brate off the line on the strong side.
Fault/INT Counter: 5/11
For Winston’s final interception of this game, the Bucs were down 27-23 facing a second-and-10 situation on their own 36 yards line needing to go the full field in 26 seconds – so they needed to take a shot. Because of this, their route concepts got more vertical, which Arians is never afraid to do. But though the length of the routes increased, the execution of them did not. After the game, Arians also said that, “Guys stopped on routes that were supposed to go down the middle. The last play was supposed to go down the middle, it was supposed to be a big play.” The “guys” he was talking about was Breshad Perriman.
Needing to cover a lot of ground fast the Bucs went 3 x 1 with three wide receivers to the strong side. At the snap, that’s where Winston’s eyes went. The Titans, knowing the Bucs only chance to win was to push the ball, came out in a 3-3-5 formation with a MOF (Middle of Field) defender right in between the deep safeties and just beyond the linebacker level in a “robber” type of zone. But the Bucs’ play call still attacked the heavy defensive coverage well.
By design, the Bucs tried to combine an in route from the No. 1 receiver on the outside with a post route from the No. 2 slot player. This opened up the middle of the field as well as they could have asked against a lot of coverage players. But when Winston threw the ball to hit the post down the middle, Perriman wasn’t there; he was just going straight vertically.
Arians’ comments after the game once again put this mistake on the shoulders of Winston’s cast more than a big miss by him. Perriman should have gone inside, which is where the ball went.
Fault/INT Counter: 5/12
Following the tough loss to the Titans, the Bucs travel out to Seattle where Winston put on a fantastic performance. Though it came with a loss, Winston threw for 335 yards with two touchdowns, a 65 percent completion percentage and zero interceptions. The next week, back home in Tampa Bay, Winston threw for over 300 yards, but this time two more interceptions came with it. The first of two is shown above. This was the first offensive possession of the game for the Buccaneers in a 0-0 game on third-and-7.
Seth Galina, who coaches football and is generally just a very smart football mind, broke down a bunch of Winston’s interceptions himself on Twitter. In his Twitter thread, he started by saying that, at times, it just seems like Winston believes his arm is better than it really is. This interception above is one of those example where I would agree with him.
Remember Winston’s second-to-last interception against Carolina in London? This play design was very similar to that one. In the play above, the Bucs had a 3 x 1 look with three receivers to the strong side. The Cardinals were trying to counter it with a Cover 2 Man shell, meaning the two high safeties were covering the deep halves while the rest of the defenders were in man coverage in front of them. When Godwin motioned from the outside in, cornerback Byron Murphy followed him. In the play, the objective is to get the outside receiver to carry his man up and away from the sideline using a go route. Then when Godwin breaks to the outside on his out route, he should have plenty of space to get separation and make the catch. Against Carolina it failed because the defense didn’t respect the go route. Here it failed because Winston just didn’t throw it hard enough.
When you have passes like this, they have to be fast, hard and to the outside. This pass didn’t seem to be any of those. It almost looked like Winston took juice off of this throw, which is a big no-no. If the pass isn’t hard and fast, you give the trailing cornerback the time to catch up and potentially get a hand on the ball. And even worse, if it’s not to the outside, the you open yourself up for the corner to not only recover, but undercut the pass. That’s exactly what happened.
I’m not sure if Winston just thought that was enough zip on the ball or what, but it clearly wasn’t.
Fault/INT Counter: 6/13
For the next interception we jump forward to the second half of the Cardinals game. In the clip, the Bucs found themselves tied 10-10 with their backs against the wall on their own 10-yard line facing third-and-11 with 2:17 to go in the third quarter.
As guardians of the sticks (the first down marker), the Cardinals were playing in Cover 3 with a single high safety and deep thirds coverage from the outside cornerbacks, but it wasn’t a vanilla, straight forward Cover 3 shell. Arizona was playing what is called “3 Buzz” where the linebacker is responsible for one of the flat zones while the extra safety stays over the middle. Meanwhile that weak side linebacker and also the nickel corner were in a technique commonly referred to as “buzzing the flat”, where each player doesn’t jam or re-route a receiver but rather immediately drops into the zone. That brings us to that safety over the middle.
Winston’s primary read on this play is actually Evans to his left. After the snap, he saw the middle linebacker dropping into a curl zone, which would have made it difficult to get the ball to Evans. Winston then goes to his next progression, Godwin over the middle. With one linebacker to the flat and the other in Evans’ curl zone, Winston must have just not seen the safety and thought that because the linebacker veered towards Evans he wouldn’t make it to Godwin and let it fly. But the safety was clearly right there, made contact at the catch point and the ball was intercepted.
That’s on Winston.
However, Godwin might have run this route a yard or two longer than he was supposed to. If it was designed as a curl at the sticks, Godwin runs two yards too far, which is a lot when it comes to timing. Godwin is also heavily contacted either right at or I would say before the ball arrives. Because of those factors and an unlucky bounce up in the air, I’m only putting this half on Winston.
Fault/INT Counter: 6.5/14
To this point, all but once, when Winston had a multi-interception game he was able to bounce back the next week. After throwing two interceptions against the Cardinals in Week 10, Winston was not able to bounce back against the Saints, throwing four interceptions in the blowout loss.
For Winston’s first pick, the Bucs were faced with second-and-10 down 6-0 after giving up points to both of the Saints first two drives.
There’s no need for a ton of words or an in depth schematic breakdown for this one. The Saints were in their traditional Cover 3 shell. The Bucs were in a 2 x 1 with a tight end coming off the line of scrimmage late on the strong side. Howard (the delayed tight end) ran a drag route over the middle, and the pass went straight off Howard’s hands and into the hands of the defender for the second time this season.
Not on Winston at all.
Fault/INT Counter: 6.5/15
For Winston’s second interception of the game we stay in the first half of the Saints game, but not by much. In this play, the Bucs had the ball at the New Orleans 43-yard line down 20-7 facing third-and-11 with 15 second left in the half and one timeout in hand.
Given the circumstance, Winston was throwing this one no matter what. As long as he was throwing it past the first down marker, even if worst case scenario happened and the pass was picked off, the Saints were likely taking a knee into halftime anyways. The Saints were playing pretty far off in quarters coverage to counter the offense’s desperation, so they were ready for the long throw. The Bucs called a four verticals concept with all four receivers on go routes. Winston goes for the primary target over the middle and the traffic takes over.
A few things here. The offensive line didn’t do Winston many favors on this one. The delayed blitz on the left side gets up and into Winston as he threw the ball (I think the contact gets to him just in time to affect the throw a bit). I would have said Winston should’ve stepped up in the pocket, but if he did Cam Jordan would have sacked him, and you at least want to throw it to give your guy a chance. But at the same time I don’t know exactly how much of this throw was affected. If Winston intended on throwing the ball low, that was the wrong choice. That allows the defender to dive and make a play on it.
The pocket wasn’t ideal, but Winston still has to see that the linebacker is playing inside leverage on the target and put this ball in a different spot, preferably a back shoulder type of placement away from the defender.
Fault/INT Counter: 7.5/16
Winston’s third interception of the New Orleans game came on fourth-and-10 from their own 33 yard line where the Bucs were down 27-17 with 5:19 left in the fourth quarter. By going for it here, the Tampa Bay was basically in a situation where Winston had to throw it no matter what or they were essentially saying the game was over.
The Bucs were a 3 x 1 set with three wide receivers to the weak side. New Orleans went with a deep Tampa 2. In Tampa 2, the two safeties take the deep halves of the field, the outside cornerbacks retreat but then squat at the first down marker, and the middle linebacker drops deep to cover/match any vertical route up the seam. This allowed the Saints to guard themselves against routes to the sticks (the first down) at the sideline, the seam up the middle and of course the deep halves of the field knowing the Bucs had to push it.
This play is tougher to understand because the ball is nowhere near a receiver. Former Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who played under Bruce Arians in Arizona, recently talked about what it was like playing in in Arians’ offense. He said that there are a lot of option plays that allow wide receivers to be flexible with which route they run depending on movement in coverage during a play.
In theory, the freedom to adjust to coverage on the fly is great, but it heavily leans on chemistry between the passer and pass catcher for its success. If the two are not on the same page, it can go wrong in the worst way. I have to think that’s what happened in the play above. The target, Evans, cut inside to run an in route beyond Godwin’s curl route. But Winston threw this ball more vertically like it was supposed to be a post a few yards farther down the field.
This one might be one Winston, but we don’t know because of the miscommunication.
Fault/INT Counter: 7.5*/17
If you thought the last interception came from a desperate situation, just imagine what it would be like if Winston still had one more to throw in this game. In the clip above, the game was well over with. Down 34-17, the Bucs were at the 1-yard line on third down with 2:40 left in the game.
This throw is just bad. It goes back to the perplexing question of: does Winston just think his arm is better than it is? This ball has to either be thrown with much more pace than this or it had to be arced higher and much farther towards the side of the end zone. Goal line fades cannot in any way be low and short – and there’s no excuse when the player you’re throwing to is the 6-foot-5 Evans.
This was one of Winston’s worst interceptions to this point, if nothing else but for the complete lack of accuracy.
Fault/INT Counter: 8.5/18
For interception No. 19 we fast forward to the Bucs’ Week 12 game against the Falcons in Atlanta. But we don’t have to fast forward too far, as Winston first interception of the game came on his first pass.
As the Bucs had done many times before this, they opened this game in 12 personnel. After rushing for 11 yards and a first down on their first offensive play, they set up in a similar personnel that could have been a run or a pass. The Falcons showed a Cover 3 look with one deep safety and the outside cornerbacks with their backs towards the sidelines to funnel everything towards the middle.
I cannot say for sure whether or not or how many times the Bucs had run this play to start games before this, but they must have at least once or twice, because Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant knew exactly what route Mike Evans was going to run and exactly when the ball was going to arrive. Whether this was a curl or just an in route, Trufant was in between Evans and the ball with such great anticipation that he almost over ran it. This raises the question of offensive predictability more than it does Winston’s turnover problem.
To note: something Winston struggled to do this season was manipulate with his eyes, at least on his interceptions. During the plays where Winston was trying to hold defenders, be it linebackers or safeties, away from where his primary read was, he did not hold the deception long enough for it to matter. In this play, he actually did a good job looking one away an appropriate amount of time before turning to fire. The problem was Trufant just played it so well.
This is a pick on Winston because at no time was Evans open, but the anticipation from Trufant is really the takeaway here.
Fault/INT Counter: 9.5/19
You don’t have to travel far to get to Winston’s second interception of the game. The Bucs offense was in third-and-7 with 3:27 left in the first quarter while holding a small 7-3 lead.
The field All-22 clip doesn’t do this play justice. To really understand this one you have to see it from the end zone view in the second part of the clip. Coming out of a 2 x 2 set, the Bucs ran a variation of out/in routes that had every receiver flowing to the right side of the field no matter where they were lined up. The Falcons were in a Tampa 2 shell with the outside corners squatting at the first down markers on the outside while the middle linebacker carried a deep vertical zone up the middle of the field.
When you look at this play from the end zone view, you can see that the primary receiver was Godwin on an out route to the outside, after seeing that the cornerback had Godwin marked well, Winston’s progression led him all the way across the field to Scotty Miller crossing over the middle. But knowing that Miller would have been blasted by the linebacker had he gotten the ball, Winston then went to his third read, which was Ogunbowale out of the backfield. That progression logic wasn’t bad, but the extremely unorthodox jump pass behind Ogunbowale certainly was.
You just can’t do that.
Fault/INT Counter: 10.5/20
Week 13 was a relatively tame one on the Winston spectrum, as the Buccaneers defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road while Winston threw for just 268 passing yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. The following week against the Colts, however, was not tame at all. In a game in which Tampa Bay was victorious by the score of 38-35, Winston threw for 456 passing yards with four passing touchdowns and three interceptions.
For the first turnover, like many times this season, we simply start with the first passing play of the game. Just like it was in Atlanta, the Bucs rushed for a first down on their first play from scrimmage. Their second play, shown above, was their first pass.
With a very good safety on the back end, Malik Hooker, the Colts chose to open up the game in Cover 3, allowing Hooker to play that “centerfielder” role. The outside cornerbacks made zone turns at the snap with their backs to the boundary, and the rest of the defense sunk into flat and hook/curl zones. The Bucs offense was in a 2 x 1 set out of 11 personnel with one wide receiver (Evans) to the weak side of the field.
If you watch the play from the end zone view to see where Winston’s eyes go to first, he looks to his right. You might think that because of that, Godwin or Howard was the primary read. But the primary read was actually Evans all along on this play. The look to the right at the snap was used as deception. Winston knew Evans was running a post route, which is a good route against Cover 3, especially with a player of Evans’ speed and size. The thought here is that if Evans gains inside leverage on the outside cornerback (he did), since the corner is only covering his third of the field, when Evans cuts inside on the post, that would create natural separation between he and the corner. That, in turn, should open up a throwing window where neither the outside corner not the safety coming down could get there in time (if you play the clip you’ll see all that happen). If that all goes according to plan, the only player who could foil this play is the linebacker sinking into the curl zone.
That’s why Winston initially looked to his right. What he was trying to do was hold that linebacker from drifting back into the throwing window, which is also why you see Winston pull the trigger as soon as he turned his head to Evans. The problem was, linebacker Darius Leonard did not hesitate his drop at all as Winston was trying to look him off. So when Winston let it go, Leonard was close enough to allow himself to make a very impressive and athletic play on the ball in the air.
This one was on Winston some, but when you combine asking him to look the defenders off with what was a very good play from Leonard, saying it’s all on Winston is a lot to ask. Winston is only partly to blame on this one.
Fault/INT Counter: 11/21
For the second interception of the Colts game we join the Bucs offense in a third-and-10 situation at the Indianapolis 23 yard line down 17-14 with 3:08 to go in the half. Basically the thought here is just don’t turn the ball over – though an Arians offense never thinks that type of small ball.
Just like the first play, the Colts’ secondary was in Cover 3. But this time they paired their thirds coverage with a six-man blitz. What was savvy about their blitz, however, and the reason why it fooled Winston so much, was that, at the snap, it looked like a seven-man blitz. But if you’ll watch the clip a few times at a slower speed, you’ll see Leonard engage with the center, then completely pull off of him to read Winston’s eyes and drop back into the throwing window.
Winston never even saw him, and it’s hard to blame him. You could say that Winston should have hit a wide open Brate on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but the free blitzer was right in that throwing window. Plus, the receiver Winston was going for was wide open minus Leonard suddenly dropping.
What more could you really have asked Winston to do on this play? The two interceptions by Leonard, a Pro Bowl linebacker, had in this game were two of the best interceptions from a linebacker I’ve seen in years.
Fault/INT Counter: 11/22
Down 35-31 the Bucs found themselves in a second-and-10 situation on their own 13 yard line with 10:21 left in the fourth quarter. Out of 11 personnel the Bucs were aligned in a 2 x 1 set with a stacked receiver formation on the weak side and a single receiver with the tight end on the strong side.
The Colts went simple in their secondary coverage here playing a classic quarters, dividing the deep field into fourths with the outside cornerbacks and both safeties playing back. Winston’s primary target here was wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who appeared to be running a skinny post as the top part of the stack on the right side. Winston started his progression with Perriman and never looked off of him up until the throw. Once Perriman engaged with the nickel cornerback, he was only able to create a small amount of separation out of his break. This caused there to be a very limited throwing window.
If you watch the end zone view of the play, even though the separation was small, there was room to make the throw, but Winston’s pass was slightly delayed and therefore behind his target, which caused the ball to bounce up and into the hands of the safety for the interception. The throw was not what it needed to be.
Fault/INT Counter: 12/23
Following the Bucs’ high-turnover yet high-scoring win over the Colts in Week 14, they traveled to Detroit to take on the struggling Lions in Week 15. Winston didn’t make too many mistakes in this game, as he threw for 458 yards and four passing touchdowns. He did add another interception to his 2019 total though, but he got it out of the way early. In the play above, the Bucs’ first possession of the game, Tampa Bay was facing second-and-23 following back-to-back penalties.
The Lions were in an interesting coverage shell in the play above. What it appeared to be was Cover 0, which means all defensive backs and linebackers have man coverage responsibilities. The Lions paired their man coverage with pressure, as linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was coming off the edge as the fifth rusher. However, as the play developed, it looked like Detroit linebacker Jahlani Tavai was playing a “low rat hole” kind of zone within that Cover 0. If it is what it appeared to be, his responsibility as the “rat” was to pick up any crossers routes over the middle. That’s why his drop seems so different.
To really understand what happened here you have to look at the end zone view. As the ball was snapped, Winston first looked straight towards the middle of the field, really to see what Tavai was doing. When he saw Tavai go all the way across the line of scrimmage immediately, Winston made his decision that the two quick slants going the opposite direction of where Tavai was going would be open – it’s hard not to blame him for that thought process. But what happened was that Tavai just stopped his path cold and jumped back into the throwing lane.
Winston is staring right in the area where Tavai is, so for that, this has to be at least half on him. But I would only say half of it is because there’s not much more Winston could have done here given the circumstances. I asked Arians about this play the week after it happened. I was curious why the space was so tight for two slant routes. Did one player run the wrong route? Arians said no, it was correct. When they adjusted in the pre-snap for the expected blitz, that route combo was the hot read. It was designed for Howard to both be a lead blocker and also bring the coverage away from the trailing Jones. Without Tavai making a very impressive rogue play, that throw should have worked.
That’s why it’s half on Winston. That’s the throw he was supposed to make, and it was a good throw. Tavai just made the better play.
Fault/INT Counter: 12.5/24
Hard to believe that with two games to go Winston was six interceptions away from 30 and he still hit it. This Texans game was a key, unfortunate contribution to that. On the very first pass play of the game, the Bucs were in second-and-10 on their own 17-yard line after handing it off to Jones the play before for no gain.
This was one of those plays where Winston either thought his arm was better than it is or he just didn’t care to think about the consequences if it wasn’t, as Galina said in his Twitter break down. Galina correctly pointed out that the leverage of Texans cornerback Bradley Roby on this play (him square with the wide receiver) gives him the ability to just stare this play down and break on a potential quick route as quickly as possible. The leverage alone should tell the quarterback to stay away from such a throw, as it is highly dangerous.
Winston started this play by looking straight up the middle of the field. But he barely held his look and therefore did not fool Roby at all. When he turned his head to wide receiver Justin Watson’s route to look for him, he could physically see Roby, but he didn’t recognize him, meaning his leverage and how he could impact the play. Winston kind of hesitated by patting the ball and then let it fly, having no respect for how well Roby put himself in position to impact this play. On top of all that, he did not put this ball as far outside as it needed to go.
All that is on Winston. He has to respect what defenders in the right position can do.
Fault/INT Counter: 13.5/25
It doesn’t take us long to get to Winston’s second giveaway of the game. For the play above, we re-join the Bucs on third-and-6, down 7-0 after the pick-6 on the previous possession.
There’s a lot of context that needs to be explained for this play. In the pre-snap, the Texans defense showed the look of Cover 2 Man. This means that the two deep safeties would cut the deep part of the field in half and the rest of the defenders underneath them will be in man coverage. However, after the ball was snapped, the strong safety immediately came down in the middle of the field, which told us that this was actually Cover 1 hole, meaning it was just one safety to handle the deep part of the field while the other played a shorter MOF (Middle Of the Field) zone.
On Winston’s side of things, you could see him turn his head to see the safeties in 2-High before the snap, so he thought it was Cover 2 Man, just like anyone would. At the snap, Winston looked to his right. His primary read appeared to be Watson on this play. As he confirmed Watson was covered, his next read was Ishmael Hyman over the right side of the middle. Winston chose to pull the trigger quick, but the hole safety was able to cut it off and intercept it.
Now the question is, should/can we expect Winston to realistically see a defender that was traveling from all the way on the other side of the field? On one hand, Winston’s reads were to the opposite side, so going from far right to middle right, his progressions never really gave him a chance to see that safety coming down. Remember, in the pre-snap the Texans showed a 2-High safety look, so Winston wouldn’t have seen the change in coverage to the left when his reads were to his right.
However, what trumps all of that is that, at the snap, it is Winston’s job to look at the middle of the field for at least a split second to confirm the safeties are doing what you thought they would in the pre-snap. Winston failed to do this, and that’s why this mistake is still on him.
Fault/INT Counter: 14.5/26
On Winston’s third turnover of the Texans game, the Bucs had just taken over after a fumble by Houston that was recovered by Devine White. So down 10-3, on first-and-10 less than a minute into the second quarter, the Bucs decided to get vertical.
Out out 12 personnel (meaning two tight ends and one running back), Tampa Bay ran play action with max protect, meaning that all of the blockers who can stay in to block (the tight ends and running back) did so. This, in theory, gave the offensive line equal or plus numbers when blocking against the rush as to allow the quarterback to hold onto the ball for an extended period of time for longer developing routes down the field.
I would say that the result of this play is only half on Winston. With max protect, there are only two receiving options on the play. The two route combos are a curl and an out, both beyond the first down marker.
With the Texans playing so far off in cover, the curl was the correct one to target. But Perriman, the one running the curl, does Winston no favors here. Though Winston’s pass should have been more towards the inside given the leverage of the corner, Perriman took far too many steps to get turned around and hardly fought for this ball. The placement could have been a little better. But the decision and pace on the ball were enough that this pass should have been incomplete, at worst, with more fight from the receiver, so Winston only gets half the blame on this one.
Fault/INT Counter: 15/27
For Winston’s final pick of the Texans game, we find the Bucs on third-and-1, down 23-20 with 1:31 in the fourth quarter. This is definitely “go for it” territory, if they didn’t pick up the one yard, but putting yourself in a do-or-die is obviously not ideal.
With one yard to go, the Bucs broke the huddle in a 3 x 1. But before the snap, they motioned Ogunbowale out of the backfield and into a receiver position to create a 3 x 2. The Texans paired pressure with tight, Cover 1 man coverage as to not give Tampa anything easy to pick up the one yard.
I debated the fault of this one. On one hand, Ogunbowale really made this hard on Winston due to how poorly he ran this route. Even off his release, he is veering towards the sideline, and if you slow it down you can see that clearly gives the route away to the defender, who was able to break on it way early for the interception. Ogunbowale tipping the route that poorly isn’t on Winston.
But, the ball placement and the decision are Winston’s fault. Winston was looking at Ogunbowale the whole way, and just like he did with the first interception in this game, did not respect the leverage position of the defender enough to not throw this ball. With Howard just three yards to Ogunbowale’s right, Winston should have been able to see the outside defender breaking on Ogunbowale and throw it this ball to Howard instead. Plus, the out throw itself was once again not far enough to the boundary.
For those reasons, I am putting this one on Winston, despite his target not helping him out.
Fault/INT Counter: 16/28
In the final game of the season, Winston was two interceptions away from the 30 INT mark, and he got those two interceptions. The first one was a tough one to read. For this play, Tampa Bay was in second-and-10 with 5:14 left to play in the first half down 13-7.
The Falcons defense set up in a Cover 1 shell. They, like many times before in this article, were pairing tight man coverage with added pressure on the pocket. The Bucs were aligned in a 2 x 2 set with two receivers on each side, and the distance between all targets was pretty spread out. At the snap, Winston looked to the middle of the field to confirm the Cover 1 pre-snap look. He then looked straight to his right, as Watson appeared to be the primary receiver. What gets tricky is what happens next. Winston throws this ball as if Watson is running a skinny post, but Watson stays vertical to run a 9-route.
Winston looked like he had a lot of confidence in this throw. The cornerback had outside leverage against Watson, so throwing the post should have worked. Winston put the ball where it needs to go for such a route, but Watson wasn’t there.
As talked about before, there are a lot of option routes for wide receivers to run in Arians’ offense, but even though I think Watson either ran the wrong route or made the wrong adjustment, I just don’t know because I don’t know the call.
Because of that I can’t fault Winston here.
Fault/INT Counter: 16*/29
We have made it to the end, my friends – and you could say we saved the best for last. In what was probably the most crushing interception of the season for Winston, the Bucs had just received the opening kickoff of overtime facing first-and-10 at their own 25 yards line tied 22-22 with the next touchdown winning the game.
The Falcons show up in Cover 3; one deep safety with both outside cornerbacks playing deep thirds at the sidelines. The rest of the defenders were dropping into zones. The SAM linebacker on the strong side was buzzing to the flat while the other linebackers dropped into their hook/curl zones over the middle.
There were a few elements to this play (as is often the case). First, Winston never broke off Brate as his primary target. He was looking at that route the entire way. The Bucs were essentially just hoping to pick up three or four yards on first down to set up a manageable second down. Because of that, Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, being the very good player that he is, read Winston’s eyes and broke on the pass right as Winston started his throwing motion. Winston not accounting for Jones there is on him. However, if you’ll watch the end zone view (and even the broadcast version of the play on Gamepass), you’ll see that the ball was tipped at the line when Winston threw it. This without a doubt affected the speed of the ball.
Now, Jones was already breaking on the route. So even if it wasn’t tipped, would there have been enough pace on the ball to get there or at least be an incompletion? That we can’t say for sure. The pass was on Winston for pulling the trigger with Jones right there, but the tipped pass means I can’t put it all on him because we just don’t know what would have happened.
Fault/INT Counter: 16.5/30
So what does this film breakdown tell us? It suggests that slightly more than half of Winston’s league-high 30 interceptions were his fault, though there were a couple of asterisk (*) plays where it was tough to determine blame in losses against New Orleans and Houston.
Winston detractors and supporters might find fault in my analysis one way or the other, so a person could do his or her own breakdown of the clips I’ve provided and come up with 14 or 15 interceptions that are Winston’s fault, or maybe 18 or 19 INTs that were totally on the QB.
If I give Winston 16.5 interceptions that moves him down to fourth in the league when it comes to INTs. However, if I did a similar blame-game assignment with every other quarterback in the NFL their numbers would drop too because of wrong routes or great defensive plays, and at the end of the day, Winston still leads the league in interceptions. Remember, he threw nine more interceptions than the second guy on the list – Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, who threw 21.
And how many would-be interceptions were simply dropped by Winston’s opponents this year? Remember when Winston threw a pass that was almost picked in the end zone at Seattle and it went off the defensive backs hands’ right into the arms of Perriman for a touchdown? That’s what I’m talking about.
If Winston’s teammates had not had balls bounce off their hands or run the wrong routes would that have led to fewer turnovers and meant more wins for Tampa Bay in 2019? Yes, but that number is hard to quantify. Had the Bucs won more games if Winston had thrown fewer interceptions because of better throws or better decision-making? Sure, but again, that number is hard to quantify.
At the end of the day, 30 interceptions is a lot, but so is 16 or 17. Of the quarterbacks that made the NFL playoffs this year, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo’s 13 were the most, followed by Houston’s Deshaun Watson, who threw 12. The next highest was Buffalo’s Josh Allen with nine, followed by New England’s Tom Brady, who had eight.
The fewest interceptions Winston ever threw in a season was 11 in 13 games during the 2017 season. Over a 16-game season it was 15 during his rookie campaign in 2015.
As I’ve said before, the question with Winston is no longer “can you change him?” but rather “can you win with him?” He is who he is. The hope is that he cuts down on the interceptions some, but it likely won’t be as drastic as the names we listed above who were playoff quarterbacks this season.
Can a quarterback like Winston, the good and the bad, be enough to not only make the postseason but give this team a chance at a second Lombardi Trophy? That’s the question that general manager Jason Licht and Arians are pondering when it comes to deciding Winston’s fate in Tampa Bay this offseason.