Jameis Winston showed he’s on his way to being a top NFL QB — but he’s not there yet
His inaccurate passes when the conditions seem ideal are what’s holding him back
As a former player, I have grown frustrated with the oversimplification of football analysis. So this season, I will be watching the coaches’ video and analyzing the impact of all 22 players on the field and the coaches’ game plan.
How could Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) go into Kansas City (7-2) and put an end to the Chiefs’ five-game winning streak? Your guess is as good as mine. But why guess when we have the coaches’ film?
For much of this game, while watching Winston, I felt like I was watching one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Except for the times when he looked like the worst. Throughout this game, Winston consistently performed like an All-Pro when facing some very difficult situations. But he occasionally threw uncatchable, inaccurate passes when the conditions seemed ideal.
VERSUs the blitz
On Sunday, the Chiefs blitzed Winston 15 times. And he made them pay all but twice. He completed 85.7 percent of his passes and scrambled once for six yards on a second and 11 in the second quarter. Winston showed pocket presence, toughness and pinpoint accuracy when the Chiefs sent an extra rusher. He did not throw any inaccurate passes when being blitzed. Perhaps the prettiest one came at 5:53 in the second quarter. Kansas City sent a linebacker with to the normal four rushers. The Bucs kept a tight end and running back in to pick up the pressure. Winston recognized that he had receiver Mike Evans running a go route against one-on-one coverage. Winston held the deep safety in the middle of the field with his eyes, then turned to his left and delivered a perfectly thrown 31-yard rainbow to Evans.
That play set up a Roberto Aguayo field goal, which gave the Bucs an early lead.
On third down
The Bucs had an outstanding 68 percent third down conversion rate thanks in large part to their talented quarterback. He earned a new set of downs for his team on several manageable third and five or less situations. But the most impressive third down conversion came on a third and nine in the 1st quarter. Kansas City sent a reasonably well disguised six-man pressure that Winston couldn’t read pre-snap. At the snap of the ball the Chiefs’ nickel corner was sprinting unblocked from Winston’s left. Winston immediately realizes it and begins to move quickly and calmly away from the would-be tackler, buying his receivers the fraction of a second they need to get to the first-down marker. Winston releases the ball just before the defenders reach him. And connects with the well covered tight end Cameron Brate, who gets just enough for the first down.
Who Is this guy?
Winston had a number of plays like the ones I described, throughout this game, accumulating 331 yards passing and a touchdown. But while he played like an All-Pro against the blitz and on third downs, he was subpar in the red zone. Along with executing against the blitz and on third down, great quarterbacks perform well inside the 20-yard line. With five trips to the red zone, Winston and the Bucs only score one touchdown. It was a play-action rollout pass to the fullback in the flat. Twenty percent red-zone efficiency is not good, but after watching the film I felt worse. On one trip to the red zone, in the third quarter, Winston fumbled the ball without even being hit and Kansas City recovered it. Late in the second quarter, the Bucs were in the red zone and Winston threw the ball directly into the hands of a defender. Fortunately for the Bucs, the defender dropped it. But, they won’t always be so lucky.
The bottom line
Winston is really good. He could be great. Or he could be eternally frustrating for Bucs fans. There will certainly be weeks when he outperforms the rest of the quarterbacks in the league. Unfortunately, there will also be weeks when he is not so good. But at only 22 years old, his future looks brighter than most.