Every week it seems like Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston peers downfield and sees a different assortment of numbers weaving their way through an opponent’s defense.
Long-term and short-term injuries have jumbled up Tampa Bay’s offensive weaponry throughout this season. Not only does that mean Winston has to get comfortable throwing to teammates who may be fresh off the practice squad, it allows defenses to devote more resources to locking down No. 1 target Mike Evans.
WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Exemplifying that ever-changing rotation is the fact that the Bucs’ third-leading receiver in terms of offensive snaps played is still Vincent Jackson.
Jackson hasn’t suited up since Week 5 in Carolina.
At one point or another, backups Russell Shepard, Cecil Shorts III, Freddie Martino, Josh Huff and Donteea Dye Jr. have been called upon to pick up the slack.
The cupboard was as bare as it’s been all season last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, when Shorts and Humphries were both unavailable.
That’s just life in the NFL sometimes and Winston and the Bucs found a way to keep the offensive engine running with spare parts.
“Yeah, well that’s just what you have to do,” head coach Dirk Koetter said this week. “There’s no other options, so that’s just part of playing quarterback in this league. Look at [New England quarterback] Tom Brady, [he’s] been doing that for years and they’re talking about him winning his hundredth MVP, so that’s just football. Jameis isn’t out there crying about who he doesn’t have, the guys you have are the guys you have and you go play football and try to win.”
Tampa Bay’s changing arsenal of backup pass catchers has resulted in opposing defenses shifting more and more their focus toward keeping Evans in check. After logging consecutive 100-plus yard games, the third-year star has been kept out of the end zone and limited to three catches for 38 yards and four catches for 42 yards, respectively, the last two games.
“It depends on their personnel and then what their scheme is, but we are seeing a lot of hand-fighting,” Koetter said of what he’s seeing from secondaries. “A lot of people try to hold Mike up at the line and not let him get started. And then even teams that aren’t half-field teams, we’re seeing more teams roll the coverage to Mike. And if they’re a single-high team, tilt the safety that way. If they’re a two-deep team, cloud it that way.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken expressed similar opinions on the topic during his weekly press conference Wednesday afternoon, adding that Evans is still managing to affect games even when he does catch a pass.
“We still targeted him eight times [last week] and we’re going to still continue to move Mike around and target him because he’s a special talent,” Monken said. “Sometimes it just works out that way. He was still a big factor, got an interference call to put the ball on the one-yard line for our only touchdown, when they went cover-zero. Another time they got a holding call – Jameis did hit Chuck [running back Charles Sims] – but that did add five yards on to that.
“There’s some things we can do schematically, there’s some things that Mike can do better with his route running and his mental stamina to stay in the game and continue. So, [we are] just a little bit off in a number of our areas, but we’re really close.”
Bucs WRs Russell Shepard and Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With Evans drawing more attention and new or lesser-used wideouts on the field, Winston leaned on top tight end Cameron Brate and his running backs last weekend. Brate, Evans, Sims and Doug Martin were the team’s leading receivers against the Saints.
“They have been trying to stop Mike Evans,” Winston said this week. “When you’re playing against a team and their main focus is to stop one guy, it’s tough to give him the ball. So you’ve got to work with everyone else and the other guys have been doing a good job stepping up.”
A little help should be on the way Sunday night in Dallas. Humphries has been a full participant in practice this week as he works his way out of the league’s concussion protocol.