In defense of Jameis Winston

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Opinion editorial

So you’re an angry Bucs fan looking for something (or someone) to blame for the horrid loss to the Panthers this past Sunday. Do you know who is an easy target? Jameis Winston, the guy who managed to throw a career-high five interceptions last game. However, I implore the you to look closer at what happened on Sunday and come to the conclusion I have: That game was not all on Winston.

First, let me start by saying that I 100% agree with the statement that Winston NEEDS to play better. Whether they were all his fault or not, five interceptions are just too many and it simply can’t happen if they want to have a productive offense. Furthermore, this article isn’t being written to justify Winston’s play on the field. Even I, an avid supporter of Winston since he was drafted, can’t convincingly defend how he looked on Sunday. The real reason I’m writing this article is to show that this loss wasn’t all on Winston. So, with that out of the way, let’s delve into Sunday’s game.

The Interceptions

The most eye-popping stat from Sunday is definitely the seven giveaways by the Bucs offense; more specifically, Winston’s interceptions. Whether it’s fair or not, the quarterback is always the first to be blamed for any interception. But the reality is that football is the ultimate team sport. Meaning, even a deflating play like an interception often doesn’t have just one culprit to blame. So I’m going to analyze each interception in order to determine what caused them.

The first interception happened on the very first pass of the game. While Winston was immediately pressured, I can’t really defend him on this one. He was looking at Mike Evans the whole way and threw it into tight coverage. I do think if he threw it a half a second earlier, this is a complete pass. Evans ran a curl route — 5-10 yards forward and immediately turned around. If Winston throws this ball just as Evans is turning around, James Bradberry would not have had time to react. In tight coverage, every millisecond counts.

But now we get to the second interception which, I believe, wasn’t so clearly on Winston. This pass was intended to be a check-down to Bobo Wilson, who was running a route in the flats. On the surface, it looks like Winston just overthrows Wilson. However, upon closer inspection, the blitzing linebacker Bruce Irvin gets an arm in to disrupt Winston’s pass. Josh Wells, who was filling in for the injured Demar Dotson at right tackle, gets badly beaten by Irvin and the pass is intercepted by Javien Elliot as a result.

As for the third interception, the initial look is that Winston threw it directly to linebacker Luke Kuechly. However, at the time of the throw, there are three defenders in Winston’s face including Eric Reid who hit him as he threw after overpowering Ronald Jones. The hit clearly affected the throw, resulting in an interception. The common theme for the game so far is that Winston has been hurried, harassed and bullied by the Panthers defense.

The fourth interception was on a fourth-and-10 with a little over two minutes to play in the game. The Bucs at this stage were attempting a comeback over the Panthers. However, Ross Cockrell caught Winston eyeing down his receiver Chris Godwin and anticipated where the ball would go. This one is definitely on Winston, but on a fourth-and-10, I can’t imagine many other quarterbacks in the league wouldn’t be looking to go with their top target of the day.

For the last interception, there were 22 seconds left on the clock. A comeback at this point was improbable but no team would be faulted for trying. In a must score situation in the red zone, Winston threw it up to Mike Evans to hopefully win a 50/50 ball. However, Evans never quite got turned around to contest the ball and it was intercepted by Bradberry once again. I find it hard to fault Winston in this because of the context of the situation. If they were going to win, they needed to score right then and Evans had the best chance to win a 50/50 ball.

The O-Line

Now let’s talk about the porous play of the Bucs offensive line. Although Ronald Jones had the 1 touchdown, there wasn’t really much to speak of for the Bucs ground game from either Jones or Peyton Barber. A big reason for that is the lack of holes that were available for them to run through. Barber finished the day with eight carries for a measly 28 yards. Jones had even less with four carries for 10 yards. A solid running game is what keeps defenses honest in any level of football. So as the O-Line continually failed to open holes for Barber and Jones, we saw Winston pass it more often. This resulted in the Panthers playing the pass first and potentially contributed to some of the interceptions.

Of course, the O-Line’s inability to block for our running game wasn’t their only issue. Winston was sacked 7 times with Gerald McCoy contributed 2.5 of them. The Panthers defense also racked up 10 QB hits and two forced fumbles of Jameis with one of them recovered by Bruce Irvin. That is unacceptable by an offensive line that is the third-highest paid in the NFL.

The Receivers

Other than Godwin, I can’t say that any of the receiving corp really did much to help out Winston on Sunday. I’ll go over a few receivers and tight ends that I feel could have contributed more.

I’ll start with O.J. Howard. I have to say, I’m very disappointed in his performance this year. Whether he hasn’t been given opportunities or he’s just not getting open, Howard hasn’t had the breakout year many Bucs fans were hoping to see. In fact, he has been almost non-existent thus far. On Sunday, he finished with two catches for 35 yards with four total targets. Honestly, I’m not really sure what is going on because Howard clearly has the talent to succeed in the NFL. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t been a big part of our offense so far.

Cameron Brate not being a big target is the most surprising thing to me, though. A few years ago, Brate was considered Winston’s second favorite target only behind Evans. So what happened? We have two big-play tight ends that can help Winston spread the ball around rather than rely on Evans and Godwin. So why aren’t we using them?

My Take

Yes, as I said at the beginning of the article, Winston needs to play better. But football is the ultimate team sport; everybody has to do better. I will stand by that with Winston at quarterback and I will stand by that if the day comes for a new guy to take the helm. The Bucs have a bye this week, which means they have an extra week to prepare for their Week 8 matchup against the Titans. I am hopeful that they will spend their preparation figuring out how to achieve success on a collective effort. Otherwise, we may see more of the same.

 

Photo credit: buccaneers.com

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