Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
Hello, friends. Did you miss me? Because I sure missed all of you.
I am very thankful to have the opportunity to once again write for PewterReport.com – a platform that I very much enjoy writing for, with people I enjoy working with, and readers and listeners that I enjoy getting to know and interact with each week. This year is shaping up to be an exciting one for the Buccaneers – good or bad, they’re never boring – and I can’t wait to cover it all.
With that said, let’s get started.
With all the fresh new faces around the building, the one that matters the most is now one of the most familiar. Quarterback Jameis Winston is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, and even now still on that contract, it is fair to say that he is no longer “just a young quarterback.” Yes, Winston is only 25 years old, but the up-and-coming, never-before-seen, could-be franchise quarterback from Florida State is officially entering put-up or shut-up time in Tampa Bay.
Winston has without a doubt progressed as a quarterback throughout his first four years – if you can’t see that, I can’t help you. He’s been through coaching changes, suspensions, a quarterback controversy, up-and-down supporting casts; you name it. Winston has contributed to his own roller coaster over the years, but the blame to go around the Buccaneers has been numerous in more areas than just quarterback play.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
However, more than anything else, quarterback play can be where that blame (losing) halts. And it hasn’t yet.
I believe Winston has cleaned up his mechanics, the way he sees the field, the way he diagnoses defenses, and even when and when not to pull the trigger. But the area in which Winston has not progressed nearly enough over the years is hitting the deep ball.
Coming out of college, Winston was known as a risk-taker. He was the guy who would see single coverage and wouldn’t hesitate to give his guys a chance to go get it. In college, they often did, but in the NFL, that has proved to be less regular. Winston was compared to the great Brett Favre, in that regard. Both were seen as players not afraid to do what it took to win, knowing that in every game there are a handful of higher-risk plays that need to not only be completed but, at their origin, taken a chance on.
Often times that comes in the form of deep ball passes. I can’t tell you how many clips I’ve watch of Favre just loading it up, arching his back and letting that ball fly with what seems like no care in the world. For Favre, it worked out. He was talented, no doubt, but it’s fair to say he was a bit lucky, too. Whatever it was that catapulted his deep ball demeanor early on in his career, he kept it, and it, in turn, kept his career going onward and upward.
As was Favre, Winston had a bit of luck with him while at Florida State – not to say he was devoid of talent himself, either. The 2013 and 2014 Florida State teams were some of the most talented teams in the country each year, but Winston was very much a part of that formula. However, that “luck” factor when it comes to connecting on deep passes doesn’t favor the offense in the NFL nearly as much as it does in college. Once you get to the pros, it’s about controlling situations you once thanked luck for. It’s about making your own luck through hard work, improvement and of course a lot of talent.
In fact, results speaking, Winston was the worst deep passer in the NFL, according to Kinsley.
Here’s how Kinsley came up with those numbers.
“Accuracy percentage can differ greatly from completion percentage. Aside from straight up drops, accurate passes are counted on incomplete passes if the receiver can’t keep two feet in bounds on a pass he should have had no problem hauling in, some Hail Marys, some pass disruptions (depending on the placement), etc.
On the other hand, completions where the receiver has to make an unnecessary adjustment are punished as inaccurate passes. Back-shoulder passes are not included in here for obvious reasons, but passes where the receiver has to go out of his way just to make a catch are. (Just watch a highlight reel of Odell Beckham, or DeAndre Hopkins before Deshaun Watson.) As such, accurate incompletions and inaccurate completions have returned for this edition, though the amount is drastically reduced since the 16- to 20-yard throws from the past are removed from the equation.
In previous editions I had included all throws of 16-plus air yards, but this time I decided to only include throws of 21-plus air yards, so the accuracy numbers and raw stats are completely different from those of previous years.”
So these aren’t hard data numbers. There is subjectivity to them, meaning whatever Kinsley decided was an “unnecessary adjustment” or something like that could swing one way or the other in the stat column. But this is more in-depth data that requires some film breakdown, and paints a more correct picture of reality than common completion percentage stats or something like that would. I believe those types of studies are always worth exploring, at the least.
As you can see in the chart above, Winston’s 29.4 accuracy percentage of throws with 21 or more air yards ranked 35th out of a possible 35 quarterbacks studied. His completion percentage of those throws was a little better, as the 30th-ranked quarterback – but not by much.
So now that we know there’s a problem here, let’s see if we can find spot or situational irregularities that may have caused them.
As you would expect with an overall score so low, when Kinsley broke down Winston’s deep ball passes into thirds of the field, the overall accuracy was still last in the NFL. But the troubling part here is that there wasn’t an area to find that really stuck out like a sore thumb. It would have been better if two of the thirds of the field were at least average and one was terrible. That would at least give us a starting point of where Winston might need to focus his attention on cleaning up, say with technique or timing.
Instead, with scores that low pretty evenly across the board, now we have to start to question if he’s just straight up bad at this.
Since looking at spots weren’t encouraging, how about situational deep ball stats?
Do you want the good news or the bad news?
The good news is that Winston ranked 11th in the NFL when it came to throws outside of structure or outside of the pocket. This can often be an indicator of how much of a “natural” passer he is. When players like that can stay calm and deliver without structure around them, that is very encouraging.
The bad news is that within structure, which happens far more often during the game, Winston was dead last in accuracy percentage by a mile. No quarterback was even close to how low his percentage was when hitting deep passes from the pocket.
Finally let’s look at tight throws versus hitting open players.
When it came to open windows (which is subjective in and of itself) Winston could hit those players with regularity, clean pocket or not. He wasn’t in the top half of the list, but he was right around where average would be. But when it came to tight window passes (which was something that was asked a lot of him in Dirk Koetter’s offense last season), Winston was the third-worst quarterback. However, I do not place all of the shortcomings in this area on Winston, as we will dive into more when we get to the film portion of this article.
Winston really isn’t a pin-point accuracy guy. As the production under pressure would suggest, he’s just not this robotic quarterback who is meticulous with his passes. He’s unorthodox in his measures. That leads to some balls being a little behind or ahead of receivers. But that’s also part of the reason why these passes aren’t getting completed.
I appreciate the work Kinsley did here. It takes a lot of time to gather that much information for 35 quarterbacks. But anytime you have a sample size that big, even in an in-depth study, you’re sure to miss some context and details that are important.
That’s where I come in.
We already know the subjective accuracy numbers for Winston in categories like clean pocket, tight windows and locations on the field. But so much of playing quarterback – connecting on deep passes specially – has to do with chemistry with wide receivers and the context of the tape itself. Many Bucs fans would look at Winston’s poor numbers and just say, “Well, it was DeSean Jackson’s fault. He just couldn’t hit DeSean.”
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
How true was that? To answer that question, I looked at every single pass that All-22 considers a “deep pass,” which I believe is 16 yards or more, and brought even more detail and context to Winston’s deep ball accuracy numbers.
In ten games – the Chicago game didn’t count because Winston’s only deep pass was tipped at the line and intercepted — Winston threw 77 passes that were considered “deep passes.” Of them:
Middle: 16-of-31, 51.6 percent
Right: 11-of-28, 39.2 percent
Left: 6-of-18, 30 percent
So the extended data followed the same path that Kinsley’s accuracy data did, and that is that Winston is clearly better when throwing over the middle. That might have something to do with footwork and technique there, something that Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has already talked about and identified in terms of needing correction.
But it’s also worth noting that in Dirk Koetter’s offense, Winston was asked to make some very difficult throws. I’m talking about the most difficult throws in the game. We’re talking fade routes, touch passes and back shoulder timing throws right at the sideline with tight coverage on a regular basis. Do all quarterbacks have to make these throws sometimes? Yes, they do. But, man, Winston was asked to do them a lot – more than he should have been asked to, I think.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and WR Chris Godwin – Photo by Getty Images
However, the main purpose of me going to the tape and watching all of Winston’s throws was not to gain extended data on spot throws. What I really wanted to know is whether or not there was a big discrepancy with who he was throwing it to rather than where.
Here’s how Winston’s deep passes charted out using each receiver as a category.
WR Mike Evans: 14-of-28, 50 percent
TE O.J. Howard: 2-of-4, 50 percent
WR Chris Godwin: 5-of-12, 41 percent
WR Adam Humphries: 2-of-5, 40 percent
TE Cam Brate: 2-of-6, 33.3 percent
WR DeSean Jackson: 4-of-21, 19 percent
WR Bobo Wilson: 0-of-1, 0 percent
Ah, there it is. There’s the DeSean Jackson numbers everyone was waiting for – and you all were right. Winston and Jackson only connected 19 percent of the time, and Winston’s 21 deep balls to Jackson were the second most of any Bucs target (behind only Evans’ 28) by a good margin. Godwin comes in third with just 12 deep balls.
Winston was much worse hitting Jackson deep down the field than any other receiver with anywhere near that volume. Now, I will say, Winston was terrible hitting Godwin for most of the season, too, until the last two games where he hit him down field at a near perfect rate.
More than anything, you know what these numbers tell me? Yes, Winston likely isn’t going to be the pin-point accurate guy some other quarterbacks will. But, on top of that, especially for last year’s situation, chemistry matters. Winston and Evans had trouble connecting on longer passes early on in their career. Evidence is starting to solidify that that’s just the kind of quarterback Winston is; these things take time with him. But he and Evans have worked out on their own outside of regular practice for years now and it shows. Connecting on half your deep ball shots with a guy you throw to the most is a great number.
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
On the other hand, it’s been reported that Jackson wasn’t a big practice guy while in Tampa Bay. In fact, it seemed he didn’t even practice at full speed. So when it came time for the game there was no chemistry to fall back on. There was also some shaky chemistry with Godwin, as he and Winston were 1-of-7 connecting on deep passes early on in the year. But that was worked on and improved as the year went on.
So what did we learn from the numbers? Well, we learned that throwing to the sidelines and throwing to Jackson aren’t exactly Winston’s forte when it comes to establishing a diverse and dependable deep ball. The good news is that Jackson is gone and Winston will be throwing more passes down the seam in the middle of the field in Arians’ offense as opposed to the deep sideline routes that Koetter preferred.
And we also learned that the numbers support some potential growth over the middle and with certain kinds of receivers and routes. For more on that we turn to the tape on the next page.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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