Atlanta – Against the Cleveland Browns in last night’s NFL Preseason Game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Jameis Winston was 9 of 19 for 88 yards, no touchdowns, and was sacked five painful times.
If that were the only passing statistic of the game, one would have cause for concern, but this is NFL Preseason 2019, and teams don’t necessarily go in to win the games at all, nor is the only other consideration player evaluation; scheme and strategy are tested too.
In this case, the Bucs telegraphed what they were trying to do: work on the long-ball with Mr. Winston. Want proof? Watch the number of training camp and practice and previous 2019 NFL preseason game videos of Winston throwing short passes. (Remember the screen pass to Penn State’s Chris Godwin against the Pittsburgh Steelers? That game plan didn’t at all see its way into this contest.
And while you’re watching the videos, note the very cool semi-rollout that Ryan Griffin ran, and the set of nifty short passes called for him in the second half resulting in 11 of 17 for 121 and a TD pass for Griffin. It was a testing ground, last night was. But that said, how did Jameis Winston and the Bucs Offense fare?
The answer: terribly. With respect to the deep passing game test, I’d give the Bucs a D, and I was close to marking it an “F” except for the good news. The good news is all of the problems are fixable, starting with the offensive line.
Jameis Winston Can’t Fix The Offensive Line But The Bucs Coaches Can
I’m putting that problem not all on Winston, but on the coaches, and that means Head Coach Bruce Arians and Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. Why? Because on a number of plays, the Bucs never used the best kind of deep passing pass blocking: slide blocking.
Byron Leftwich Must Install Slide Blocking For Deep Passes
Have you ever noticed how it seems the New England Patriots Offensive Line causes the defensive pass-rushers to seemingly bunch-up in one area to one side of the ball? That’s not by accident or luck; that’s called slide blocking.
Here’s one description of slide blocking from the website Youth Football Online . Yep, from a website that is for pee wee and high school football. The version used here is called “half slide pass blocking”, or:
“The beauty of the half slide protection is how simple the rules are. There is a slide side and a man side. The slide side includes the Center. Each man on the slide side is responsible for the gap to their outside. This means that the Center is responsible for the A Gap, the Guard is responsible for the B Gap and the Tackle is responsible for the C Gap. The effect is that the slide side is very sound and protected.
Opposite of the slide side is the man side. On the man side the Guard is responsible for the first down lineman past the Center and the Tackle is responsible for the next down lineman. The Running Back will fill in and take any blitzing threat or the third down lineman. The idea is to put the linemen on linemen as the offensive linemen tend to be big enough to handle the larger defensive linemen. This puts the Running Back on the linebacker who tends to be smaller and show later. As a result of him showing later the Running Back doesn’t need to hold his block as long as the linemen.”
And here’s then New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator and now Houston Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien talking about using “slide protection to the Will” during a coaching clinic (“Will” is the weak outside linebacker.)
And here’s Coach O’Brien’s coaching clinic, where (aside from talking about the modern football trend of playing fast) he shows how Tom Brady makes the calls to have his offensive line pickup a ‘Double-A Gap Blitz’.
If the Bucs used that approach, Jameis Winston would have been able to step-up in the pocket because the pass rushers were being pushed to one side and away from him, deeper in the pocket. Instead, we were subjected to watch the Bucs use a man-on-man approach that didn’t work. For those of you who think football’s just about having the bigger and stronger line, there’s a reason why all kinds of blocking techniques are used, and that’s because bigger and stronger alone doesn’t always do the job – you have to have a plan for how to block, not just saying “I’ve got a man on the pass-rusher.” Okay? So, what? How is he blocking him? That’s the question.
The other question is why do you need to deep throw in the Neanderthal way, anyway? In other words, deep patterns and deep QB drops aren’t the only way to get large chunks of yards quickly. There’s nothing more hurtful to a defense than a pattern combination that gets the receiver wide open fast, from a formation structure that helps that receiver get open fast.
There are two coaches most notable for that approach: the late Bill Walsh and Mike Martz. Somewhere in Heaven Coach Walsh is looking down and saying “Winston and I would set records.” And somewhere Mike Martz, the legendary offensive coach of the St. Louis Rams, is saying the same thing too. Here’s why.
In these cut ups, we see that Kurt Warren, then the St. Louis Rams QB, throws a number of seemingly different passes – but they all have one thing in common: he doesn’t hold on to the ball long. The Rams pass plays are designed to get the ball to the receiver in space – short or medium. Why “medium”? Because the medium range throw on the pattern the receiver’s asked to run can turn into a long-gain, that’s why?
And take a look at how Walsh and the 49ers did it – fast:
Even if it was a seven-step-drop, after the drop, the quarterback was expected to throw.
Walsh was the mater of the deep throw. A combination of steps and yards and marks. Note the way Walsh receivers like Jerry Rice use the hashmarks in how they run the post pattern. It’s simple: the wide receiver runs to a point 40 yards downfield on the hashmark closest to where the receiver starts. That makes for an easy and anticipatory throw by the quarterback.
And this gets us to the best deep ball passer, ever: Peyton Manning. Take a look at this cut-up of all of his 55 touchdown passes in 2013:
All of them have one thing in common that Manning does – he never puts his head in the sky when throwing deep. His head and eyes are always directly on the receiver – that assures the ball will get there. The result is a pass that’s got less “air” on it, but it gets to the target, deep or short. By contrast, Winston tends to aim his throws by moving his head up, as if trying to put air on his passes – he’s got to stop that. It’s a key reason why his deep passing game isn’t as good as it could be.
The problem with the current “heads up” habit Winston has is it causes his passes to be constantly overthrown. That’s not an issue exclusive to Winston – it happens with any quarterback who has that throwing mechanics habit.
That is something Byron Leftwich has to work with him on. It’s something Dirk Koetter never addressed in the way I am suggesting.
The Good Points About The Bucs Offense And Winston vs Browns
Perhaps it may not be a good thing to you, but Jameis Winston getting sacked five times was okay by me. Why? Because he needs to understand that it’s fine to get sacked, rather than make a stupid throw into coverage. And, as Bruce Arians pointed out in the post game presser, Winston got hit, but he didn’t fumble the ball. It’s clear that Coach Arians is literally trying to sack and hit that tendency out of Winston, and it’s obvious the tough love approach worked. But Arians has to help Winston by installing a better timed passing offense.
Otherwise, Bill Walsh might come back to earth just to coach Winston. I know Bryan Glazer would open the door for him.
Oh, and by the way, the Bucs did win the game. Game ball to Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who just may be crafting one of the best NFL Defenses in 2019.