RSP contributor Mark Schofield takes a deep dive into free-agent quarterback Jameis Winston’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential fits in the NFL.
With Tom Brady landing in Tampa Bay to take over as the starter for the Buccaneers, that leaves Jameis Winston looking for a new home. With things not working out with Bruce Arians, what could that home look like? Here is how Arians helped his quarterback last season, what he does well, an area where he struggles, and some potential landing spots.
The Strength – and How Bruce Arians Catered to Them
In an effort to help his quarterback, Arians was determined to give Winston some half-field concepts to read while still creating opportunities for advantageous one-on-one matchups. Arians does that on the course of a single play by isolating the talented Evans to one side of the formation while calling for multi-receiver concepts to the other side of the field. Take one of Winston’s first throws of the 2019 season. Facing a 2nd and 8 early in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, the Buccaneers line up with Winston (#3) in the shotgun and use 11 offensive personnel, isolating Evans (#13) on the right:
They run a slant/flat combination to the trips side of the formation, and the tight end runs a sit route over the middle of the field. Backside Evans runs a straight go route:
San Francisco responds with Cover 1, and liking his matchup with Evans on Richard Sherman (#25), Winston takes the deep shot backside:
The pass falls incomplete, but Arians throws a quick challenge flag and upon review, Sherman is called for defensive pass interference.
Later in the game Arians dials up a similar concept. Facing a 1st and 10 early in the third quarter, the Buccaneers align with Winston under center and use a bunch formation to right out of 12 personnel. Evans is isolated on the left. Arians calls for an all-curls concept to the bunch, and Evans gets sent on another go route:
San Francisco drops into a combination coverage, playing Cover 3 to the strong side but leaving Ahkello Witherspoon (#23) in “MEG” (man everywhere he goes) coverage on Evans. Winston likes the matchup and takes another deep shot:
Again, it falls incomplete. But sooner or later Winston is going to start hitting these.
Like the following week:
Facing a 1st and 10 against the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay lines up with Winston under center and with a tight bunch to the right. Evans is isolated to the left. The Buccaneers run a vertical concept sometimes termed 969, with dual go routes on the outside and a dig route in the middle of the field. Winston sees the Panthers in single-high coverage and comes to Evans on the go route. The receiver does an excellent job with his release off the line and gets to the outside, quickly beating the press coverage and getting open for his QB. Combine the release and route with a perfect throw, and Tampa Bay has a big play.
And yes, every route was open on this snap, just to be clear.
Tampa Bay does not just use Evans on go routes from this alignment, nor do they look to him when just passing plays are called. Against the Panthers late in the game, the Buccaneers are facing a 2nd and 8. They line up with Winston under center, a bunch to the right and Evans on the left:
Expecting a run to try and salt the game away, Carolina crowds the box.
Tampa Bay does have an inside zone running play called (you can tell by how the line and tight end Howard (#80) look to block on this play) but seeing the crowded box Winston simply takes the snap and throws a backside slant route to Evans:
Evans gets immediate inside leverage and uses his frame to shield the defender from the football:
Winston puts the throw right between the 1 and the 3 on Evans’ jersey, and the Buccaneers are that much closer to their first win of the season.
Throwing the Concept
Now just because we’ve highlighted examples of Winston working backside to an isolated Evans does not mean he ignores the concept to the multiple receiver side of the formation. In fact, some of Tampa Bay’s best offensive plays in 2019 came when working to the concept in this X-Iso looks.
Here is how Tampa Bay opened their game last Thursday night against the Panthers:
The offense lines up using 12 personnel, with Winston under center and Evans split wide to the right. Chris Godwin (#12) is aligned outside on the left and comes in short motion towards the formation. When he does this, the cornerback across from him drops off and gives a bit of cushion. Seeing this, Winston looks to Godwin on a simple speed out route, and the receiver makes the defender miss to add on some additional yardage post-catch.
Here is another example. Late in the first quarter, the Buccaneers face a 3rd and 6 on their own 24-yard line. They break the huddle and put Winston in the shotgun, three receivers to the right and Evans isolated on the left:
Look at the alignment from the defense. Carolina shows two deep safeties on this play, and they will drop into a Tampa 2 coverage. With dedicated safety help over Evans, Winston looks to the right on this curls concept:
Winston checks this ball down to Cameron Brate (#84), his tight end in the flat:
Brate dives for the first down marker and comes up a bit short, but this play is an example of when Winston looks away from Evans on these X-Iso alignments.
Let’s close by looking at how the X-Iso alignments – and how Evans has been used on them – can influence a defense. Winston’s touchdown pass against the Panthers came on an X-Iso alignment when he looked away from Evans and worked the offensive concept. Facing a 1st and 10 on the Panthers’ 20-yard line, the Buccaneers line up with Winston under center and use 12 offensive personnel. The two tight ends are in a dual-wing on the right with Godwin outside of them. Evans is isolated on the left:
Just prior to the snap, Godwin motions towards the football:
This gives the offense this look as the play unfolds:
Look at the alignment in the secondary. One safety is down near the box, on the hashmark near the tight ends. The other safety is aligned outside of the hashmark, shaded towards Evans. Keep that in mind.
Here is what the offense implements:
To the three-receiver side, the Buccaneers run a Dino – or double post – concept with Howard and Godwin. Evans runs a go route. Concerned with Evans, the one safety drops to help over the top of a potential vertical route. That creates dual one-on-one matchups back side, with no inside help on either post route.
Winston looks for Godwin on the outside post:
The concern over Evans draws potential safety help away from the three-receiver side of the formation, and leaves both the backside safety and backside corner on islands with no help to the inside. Winston throws a strike, and the Buccaneers are in the end zone.
Attacking the Middle
If there is one thing we know about Winston it is this: He can rip it. Especially when tasked with challenging the middle of the field. When Winston is given the chance to attack a middle-of-the-field (MOFO) look, he is going to try and take advantage of what the defense is giving him.
Take for example this rocked against the Atlanta Falcons. Winston reads the safety rotation after the snap and sees that the defense is in a two-deep coverage despite their pre-snap alignment. That MOFO look gives him a chance to attack the middle of the field, in the soft spot between the safeties. An ideal route to attack this look is a post route, and as luck would have it, Breshad Perriman (#18) is running that exact route.
Watch Winston drill this in between the linebackers, and over the retreating middle linebacker:
Or take this throw against, again, the Falcons. Once more Winston sees the safety rotation and the middle of the field open after the snap, so he throws the adjusted seam route attacking the soft spot between the safeties:
If nothing else, Winston has that willingness – and ability – to attack that narrow area of the field between the safeties.
Again, it might be that willingness that continues to get him into trouble.
It would be easy to just write this: 30 interceptions.
That is a weakness, for sure.
Now many have tried to outline what went wrong with Winston on those 30 interceptions, and if you want a deep dive into those mistakes, I would recommend this piece from Trevor Sikkema, back when he was with The Pewter Report.
But I want to highlight one area in particular: Play speed.
We often look at quarterbacks, particularly when evaluating them, and wonder about their processing speed. How quickly do they make the right read and decision? Watching Winston, however, I wonder if there is another “speed” issue: Play speed. Take, for example, this interception against the Houston Texans:
This play comes on a 3rd and 1 situation. Winston knows pre-snap exactly where he is going to go with the football. But even with that, watch how slow the football comes out of his hand. He sets himself, stares at the route, gives it a chop with his feet to reset himself, and then the ball comes out, far, far too late on this route. The cornerback is already driving down on the route.
The issue isn’t with his processing speed, as he’s made up his mind where to go with the ball before the snap. It is with the play speed, or how long he takes to get the ball out.
Look at this play, a Pick Six against the Atlanta Falcons:
This is a relatively easy curl/spacing concept to the three-receiver side of the formation, with a backside go route. Very similar to some of the concepts broken down earlier. With the Falcons dropping into a soft zone coverage over the concept, Winston knows almost immediately after the snap that he will come to the wing tight end. But he again pauses after hitting his drop depth, and that extra second allows the linebacker to undercut this route for the interception.
The end zone angle illustrates in detail the delay in Winston getting the ball out of his hands:
Again, the issue is not the time it makes Winston to make up his mind, but rather the time it takes to get the ball out of his hands once he does. Look at this end zone angle. Winston knows by the first step in his drop that he is throwing the sit route to his tight end. But…he still throws this with a three-step drop and a hitch. Now, the pass gets slightly deflected at the line of scrimmage, which takes a little bit of velocity off the throw, but the play speed is the biggest issue here.
So…what is the best situation for Winston in the near future?
Watching Winston and thinking about how he plays the game, it is hard to find an offense for him that is not what he was in last year. The Arians offense, with its vertical elements and concepts, was probably an ideal setting for him.
So what now?
An easy question to ask is “how do you fix him?” I am not sure that is really the question to ask or one that can be answered with a specific prescription. Winston, like many other quarterbacks, just is who he is. This is who Jameis Winston is, a quarterback who will take chances with the football and make some splash throws and throw some big-time balls, but will also throw into crowds and get the ball out slowly and get burned for some of the risks he takes.
I gave thought to a system or an environment that might change that via the scheme, such as a more West Coast offense as he might find in Philadelphia or Carolina, but looking at the play speed issues gives me serious pause.
But Winston is who he is, and after all of his years playing the game, that is not changing.
So the way to “fix” him is to find a setting where that can still work.
He needs his Andy Reid.
If you think back to Patrick Mahomes and his draft process, the Texas Tech QB was labeled a “gunslinger” who needed to learn how to be conservative. At the same time, you did not want to try and really change him. He needed a coach who was going to be willing to live with some of the mistakes, some of the lows, because of the highs that he can deliver as a passer.
That might be what Winston needs. The problem is, he probably just had such a coach, and he moved on to Tom Brady.
However, looking around the league there might be two potential landing spots. One of which probably sounds insane, but here we are.
First up, the Los Angeles Chargers. They obviously have a top ten pick in the draft, and while they are indicating that they will roll with Tyrod Taylor, expectations are high that they select a quarterback with that first selection.
But what about Winston?
The new Chargers offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen, has his roots in the Coryell offense. The same offensive system that Winston just played in under Arians. Steichen cut his teeth under Rod Chudzinski, a noted disciple of the Coryell system. Steichen’s designs will be very similar to what Winston was running last season, and with Tyrod in place and potentially a rookie quarterback as well, the pressure will be off of Winston’s shoulders.
But here’s the crazy one.
The New York Giants.
Yes, they are set with Daniel Jones, and no one truly expects the Giants to enter 2020 with anything but Jones entrenched as the starter. But they are also looking to take on a more vertical, Coryell feel, given the strengths that Jones showed last year in the downfield game. Want proof? They hired Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator, a noted disciple of the Coryell system.
Again, there would be familiarity, and there would be no set of expectations.
After seeing five years of Winston, this is just who he is as a passer. There is no quick fix, there is no more room for growth or development. So the way to give him a shot at a second act is to find a system he will be experienced in running, and a spot where he can have time to recalibrate and play without the expectations of being the first overall selection, and the savior.
The Chargers and the Giants might be those spots.