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
There were plenty of reasons to get excited about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense this season. Head coach Bruce Arians coming to town was certainly one of them. His veteran presence and the experience of his coaching staff got Bucs fans thinking that this was finally the right group for the job.
When it came to the players, the Bucs offense still had a lot of talent to it. With guys like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cam Brate and Ronald Jones, this group, which was in the Top 10 in most offensive categories over the last two years, was not only intact but a year better and ready to go.
The offensive line may not have been upgraded the way people wanted it to be, but Donovan Smith having a new deal, Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen back as an interior duo with good chemistry to build off of last year, Alex Cappa showing signs of solidifying the other guard spot better than any other player had over the last three years, and Demar Dotson hopefully healthy and ready stretch out one or two more serviceable years with team, you could at least convince yourself that, with a new offensive line coach, this group could be enough to get it done.
There were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Bucs start to 2019, but all of them rested on the shoulders of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Going into his fifth-year option of his rookie deal, this was supposed to be the year for Winston – it had to be, in a sense. After four seasons of growth, plateauing, coaching changes, comeback wins, brutal losses, changes in throwing motion, revamped footwork, an evolving cast and a whole lot of time gone by, we began 2019 not knowing what the future held for a player who just five years ago was viewed as the one who had come to change it all.
Winston has had his moments in Tampa Bay. He’s been the catalyst of some of the most uniquely incredible plays I’ve ever seen from anyone on the offensive side of the ball wearing a Buccaneer uniform. However, to this point, the consistency with Winston has just not been enough. Winston has failed to do the little things well enough to give this team a chance every week. And that has led to quite the roller coaster.
As stated in the opening paragraphs, 2019 was poised to be Winston’s best cast and his best situation he’s ever had in Tampa Bay, mainly getting to work with Arians, the one they call “the quarterback whisperer.” After one game in 2019, the only whispering going on was likely the murmured words underneath the coaching staff’s breath as Winston let his third interception fly to seal the 31-17 loss to the 49ers last Sunday with a crushing pick-six – his second of the day.
This loss, as is always the case, was not all on Winston, but the stat line wasn’t pretty.
Winston completed 20-for-36 passes (55.6 percent) with 194 passing yards, one passing touchdown, three interceptions and a 45.4 quarterback rating. I’ve decided that for this week’s stats of the week, I’m going to dive into each of the categories of that stat column and give it some historical, as well as expected-result context.
Winston’s 55.6 completion percentage was well below his career average. Winston has actually be steadily climbing up in terms of accuracy throughout the years, starting at 58.3 percent his rookie year, then going to 60.8, then to 63.3 in 2017 and finally 64.6 last season. That was encouraging. The performance last Sunday was not.
Winston just looked off from start to finish. Some of the turnovers weren’t all his fault, and we’ll get to that, but even to start the game, Winston just did not look comfortable or accurate. I didn’t think the play designs and the route concepts chosen by first-time offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich were the best on Sunday, often asking Winston to make some pretty difficult throws with a lot of time in the pocket, but difficult or not, Winston is the guy with the ball in his hand to make them.
Of the games in which Winston has completed 55.6 percent of his passes or less, he is now 2-17. I rounded up that record as to scream the obvious that, whatever the circumstance, anything near or below that number will not be enough to get it done. Whether it’s the play design, the play call, or the player himself, a 55.6 percent completion day can’t happen. That won’t win.
194 Passing Yards
It was pretty strange seeing a quarterback in this offense only amass 194 passing yards last Sunday. Over the last two seasons, we’ve been used to seeing Winston’s passing number well above the 200 mark, and many times into the 300 levels.
Winston is 2-5 in games in which he does not throw for at least 200 yards in over the last four years – excluding games that he did not start or did not play the whole game. Knowing this offense, I was actually surprised that the record was even that close. This whole operation runs through Winston. The Bucs averaged 4.7 yards per carry on the ground against the 49ers, which was very encouraging, but they weren’t able to marry that run success with enough passing success.
1 Passing TD
In the most surprising stat of this entire research session, Winston is 13-14 when throwing one or less touchdowns over the last four seasons when playing the entire game. On the flip side, Winston is 8-18 when throwing two or more touchdowns. I found that very hard to believe. But, for some context, that 2016 year was a crazy outlier with how well the defense played. And Winston’s rookie year he got lucky with some wins in poor performances.
Perhaps this a hint that the Bucs have built this team to ask too much of Winston, and that the focus of team building should have been the other way around towards the defensive side of the ball. Maybe they’re asking Winston to do to much. Maybe they always have.
As you would expect, Winston’s record when throwing three or more interceptions is not very good. Over the last four years, he is just 1-6 in games where he gives the ball away at such a rate. The lone win, and the source of many outliers for these stats, was the New Orleans game in the final week of the 2017 season.
There have not been too many games where Winston has gone overboard with the turnovers, but games like the one we watched last Sunday remind you of the Cincinnati game where Winston just could not stop turning the ball over and eventually got benched.
Now, to be fair, the interceptions this past Sunday need a lot more context than just the number. The first one hit O.J. Howard straight in the hands before it fell right into the linebacker’s lap. The second one Peyton Barber didn’t run a precise route, and the third one was a broken screen play where Winston had the get the ball out quick and the running back got swallowed up by his own blockers. He should have thrown it in the dirt instead.
A team will never win turning it over that many times, and the Bucs lost the turnover battle 4:2 against the 49ers with Winston’s two pick-sixes accounting for the difference in a 31-17 loss.
I would actually say that, of Winston’s games in which he has recorded high turnovers in a loss, this one was likely the least on him, in terms of blame.
After looking back at some of Winston’s numbers in the past versus what we saw on Sunday, my takeaway is that maybe we’re doing this Winston thing all wrong. We believe he’s destined to be this 300-yard, big-game passer, but maybe that’s just not in his blood. Maybe he just doesn’t have it in him to be that efficient on a consistent basis when asked to throw that much.
What’s more important than pushing the ball is the efficiency in the little things and taking care of the football – wins will come if that happens. Coaches have said that for many years, yet they ask Winston to go out and throw it all over the yard. Maybe that’s just never going to be how they win.
In Arians’ vertical offense, we’re likely not going to see the Bucs dial it back anytime soon. They’re still going to ask Winston to throw the ball 35-40 times per game. It took Carson Palmer about 6-8 weeks to really get comfortable in Arians’ offense, so barring a meltdown, I’d like to try to do the same with Winston. Perhaps the offense evens out by then. But that’s not all on Winston, either.
Winston’s supporting cast, mainly the men blocking in front of him, will have a lot to say about that. We examine their film on the next page.