Turnovers have been the main issue for the Bucs offense this season with 18 interceptions and seven fumbles lost on the year. But another issue all season that is the number of hits quarterback Jameis Winston is taking.
The Bucs offense ranks third last in the NFL with 78 quarterback hits on the season, and while they only allowed two sacks against the Saints last Sunday, Winston was hit 12 times. The high number of shots to the Bucs’ quarterback reared it’s ugly head when Winston suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is of the belief that Winston getting hit is just part of the game, and that the protection for Winston has held its own.
“That’s the game of football,” Leftwich said. “That’s what happens in this league when you play quarterback. It’s not just Jameis, you got to do the right thing with the football, get the ball in the right places, it’s difficult. The best athletes on the whole field is the guys that got they hand on the line of scrimmage playing defense, we understand that. We’ll do a better job of trying to get him not taking shots, but from the most part, the pass protection was clean enough to have an opportunity to win the football game.”
Winston was pretty mum about his ankle when speaking to the media, giving no concern that the ankle will prevent him from playing in Atlanta.
“When it’s time to play football, I’m ready to play football,” Winston said.
There are a number of hits that can be avoided and it’s playing smart football that will help do it Leftwich said.
“That’s the point of it,” Leftwich said. “That’s why you try to make sure he’s always playing smart, make sure he’s never putting himself in position to take added hits that you can avoid, if you can avoid them, you want to try to avoid them. You want to do everything you can to try and avoid hits, we are in the latter part of the season so really every player feels it, every quarterback feels it. He does a great job of really taking care of his body and doing the things like they all do.”
Between all the hits and turnovers, Bucs coaches have worked with Winston to throw the ball away when no one is open. But Leftwich, a former NFL quarterback, expressed that just throwing the ball away isn’t as simple or easy as it seems to others.
“It’s something that you work on,” Leftwich said. “It’s hard, it’s hard to play quarterback in this league. One of the hardest things to do is to throw the ball away, trust me. It’s so hard when you’re trying to do what you can every single play because you never know the play is going to win the game, you never know when that big play is going to happen. You convert three straight third downs with him [Winston] being him and then he takes a shot on another one, that’s the game, that’s the game of football.
“But what you do see with him, you see him making the right decisions, learning to get the ball out of his hand, that is difficult to do when you have the ball, it’s easy to say throw the ball away, but when you’re the guy that’s responsible for the offense moving, responsible for conversions on third downs, that things becomes tougher than you think of just throwing that ball out, but he’s doing an excellent job of getting that ball out of his hand, not taking unnecessary hits and hopefully we can keep getting better at it.”
Through all the work Leftwich has done with Winston in their first year together, Leftwich has still enjoyed the process despite a 3-7 record.
“I love working with Jameis,” Leftwich said. “I think Jameis is getting better. Yes, we got to fix the turnover thing, I know that, I understand that, regardless if they’re on him or not. As an offense we got to fix the turnover thing, we got to do a better job of keeping the ball and making sure we finish every series, every drive with a kick.”