FAB 2. Winston’s Turnovers Must Stop
“Today we got a win – that’s hard to get when you’re minus-three in turnovers,” said Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter after a 26-23 overtime win against Cleveland on Sunday.
The Bucs got a win to end a three-game losing streak, and quarterback Jameis Winston got his first victory of the year, too. Winston had his worst game of the season as a passer, completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 365 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Winston also had a fumble, although it’s tough to blame him for that as Browns defensive end Myles Garrett beat left tackle Donovan Smith off the ball.
Sunday’s game marked the third straight game with two interceptions since returning to action from a three-game suspension to start the season. Through two and a half games, Winston has been a turnover machine with six interceptions and a fumble against five touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown.
Simply put, the Bucs won’t be winning more games in the future unless the turnovers stop.
But this is Winston we’re talking about, and he’s been a walking turnover this season, and that’s disappointing considering he played turnover-free football in the preseason. I thought perhaps Winston had turned a corner when it came to protecting the football.
This is who Winston was entering the NFL, and that’s who he’s continued to be, unfortunately.
Unless he starts to play more conservatively, the Bucs aren’t going to get out of the NFC South cellar anytime soon. Take a look at the quarterback play going on elsewhere in the division.
New Orleans’ Drew Brees has been turnover-free through the first six games of the year with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions and fumbles. Brees has led the Saints to a 5-1 record.
Carolina is 4-2 this season and second in the division thanks to Cam Newton, who has 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Newton has had three turnover-free games and it’s no surprise that the Panthers are undefeated in those games.
Atlanta is 3-4 and currently last in the NFC South, but Matt Ryan hasn’t necessarily been the problem. Ryan has 15 touchdowns, only two interceptions and one fumble. The Falcons are 3-1 in games in which Ryan has not had a turnover.
Do you see the difference between the other NFC South quarterbacks and Winston? He has all the talent in the world, he can make all the throws and is a tremendous leader, but Winston simply can’t turn the ball over with such a high frequency rate.
History suggests that Winston won’t stop committing turnovers.
But he must.
In fact, Winston is getting worse when it comes to turnovers in his fourth year as the Bucs’ starter.
In 2015, which was his rookie campaign, Winston had seven games with no interceptions and the Bucs were 4-3 in those games. In that year, Winston had six games with no turnovers and Tampa Bay was 4-2 in those contests.
The next year, Winston only had five games with no interceptions. The team was 3-2 in those games. But Winston only had three games without a turnover that season and the Bucs were 2-1 in those outings.
Last year, Winston had a career-best eight games without an interception and Tampa Bay had a 2-6 record in those games – thanks in part to a porous defense, but also part of the reason was because he had a career-high seven fumbles. Factoring in those fumbles, Winston had just four games with no turnovers and the Bucs were only 2-2 in those contests.
To summarize Winston’s career, he is 9-11 in games with no interceptions, but more importantly, Winston is 8-5 in games with no turnovers. For the Bucs to win, they need Winston to start playing turnover-free football on a regular basis.
Especially this year, as Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled to create takeaways. Through six games the Bucs have just one interception and five fumble recoveries. The simple math suggests the Bucs will lose the turnover battle in each game 2:1 if this trend continues.
Keep in mind that Ryan Fitzpatrick still leads the Bucs with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in three and a half games of action. Winston has yet to play up to the level that Fitzpatrick was at during Tampa Bay’s 2-0 start.
Winston is doing a couple of things right this year. He’s in much better control over his emotions. He’s completing passes at a higher percentage. He’s also wearing a glove that will help him hang on to the ball in the pocket while getting sacked so he avoids costly fumbles.
It just comes down to Winston’s decision-making. It’s not making risky throws down the middle of the field into coverage. It’s about not taking sacks where fumbles could occur and learning to throwing the ball away instead and live to fight another down.
Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who has been much maligned over his eight-year career for being streaky, already has eight interceptions this year, but he has 15 touchdowns, too. If Winston is going to continue to turn the ball over twice per game, he needs to have more games like he did in Atlanta with four touchdowns and two picks to help offset those interceptions and give the Bucs a chance to win.
Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre was also a turnover machine as he threw 336 career interceptions, but also had 508 career touchdowns. More importantly, Favre found a way to overcome those turnovers and win games at the end, which is something Winston needs to do a better job of, as he’s 19-28 as a starting quarterback. Of course, Favre played with a much better defense led by Hall of Fame pass rusher Reggie White.
The Bucs defense showed signs of life under new defensive coordinator Mark Duffner last week, but this unit has struggled to create takeaways this year. Until the defense proves it can come away with interceptions and fumble recoveries on a regular basis, Winston must play more conservatively for Tampa Bay to win in Cincinnati and for the rest of the season. He needs to do more to aid his own team and stop helping the Bucs’ opponents.