Fresh start: Winston re-enters the lineup against Falcons

by Gary Shelton on October 9, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston needs to be efficient Sunday./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

The running game is in quicksand. A month into the season, and it's going nowhere.

For the most part, however, that's staying the same.

The secondary is running in circles. Four different teams have taken their turns shredding it.

Still, while the playing time might be re-disbursed, that's staying the same.

The defensive line is expected to remain status quo. The offensive line, too. Even the linebackers.

But the quarterback? One of the few places where the Bucs have gotten solid play?

That's changing. Of course it is.

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Quarterback Jameis Winston begins the latest chapter of his saga Sunday afternoon when the Bucs travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons. Winston, sent into a league-mandated time-out for the first three weeks of the season, played one half Sunday, and did so without glory. Still, he will be behind center when the Bucs play their fifth game.

You can think of it as a comeback. You can think of it as a salary drive. You can think of it as a salvage mission. You can think of it as a fresh start for a quarterback who has not won enough. You can  think of it as the face of the franchise returning to the helm of the boat. But it's hard to think of a way the Bucs wukk be successful if Winston is not.

It's a lot to ask of a quarterback who has 18 wins (and 46 interceptions) in his 45 starts. At his best, Winston is a competitive player with a big arm; at his worst, he is a mistake-prone passer who keeps forcing errors.

Still, if Winston is to show that this is his team, that he should be the quarterback after this year, the proving starts now.

“I think if you just look at preseason, all quarterbacks were playing against the same defense every week, there was similar production," Koetter said. "That doesn’t mean every defense we play for the rest of the year is going to get up and play tight coverage on us and challenge us to throw deep balls over their head. I think that’s — not comparing apples to apples – I think your closest thing would be the preseason.”

Perhaps. But backup quarterbacks in preseason largely play against backup defenders, and third-teamers play against third-teamers. Against Atlanta, he'll be facing the starters of the Falcons.

More and more, the Bucs have relied on Winston in this matchup. In his first two starts against the Falcons, both wins, Winston threw it 59 times and the Bucs ran it 55. Not bad balance. But in the last three meetings (two of them losses), Winston has thrown 127 passes to 41 runs. Not so level.

Winston could use a good start. He'll be compared to backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started the season hot in his place.

“I don’t know that," Koetter said. "I think our team needs to get off to a better start and I talked about that. That’s one of the things I asked the players to give me feedback. A week ago I asked the players to give me feedback on that and then I kind of compiled all of that into a few thoughts that I shared with the team today. I think our team needs to get out to a faster start, and I think Jameis same as everybody else.”

If it helps, Winston has generally played well against the Falcons. He's 3-2 (although he's lost the last two games). However, in his last three games, he has a quarterback rating of 110.0 or higher.

Certainly, Winston could restore some of his good will if he could somehow lead the Bucs to a victory Sunday. The team has had two weeks of doldrums after an embarrassing man-handling by the Chicago Bears. In that game, the Bucs rarely competed on any plays.

“Would we have all felt better if we would’ve lost the first two and won the second two?" Koetter said. "We’re 2-2. We’re one game — going into tonight — out of first place in the division and we beat the team that’s on top. We have a road win in the division in our only game. Those are important things to remember. There’s 12 more. There’s three quarters in the season and you know we’re not exactly where we want to be, but we’re also right where we need to be as far as competing for the next 12 weeks.”

If Winston is to start fast -- and a reminder, he had an excellent pre-season camp -- he will have to do so without much of a running game. The Bucs are 30th in league as far as running the ball.

“From an efficiency standpoint, we’re not where we need to be, but the flip side of that is our passing efficiency (first in the NFL) is off the charts," Koetter said. "We have goals for every down and distance area, for every breakdown area that we’d like to be hitting in efficiency-wise. If you’re not hitting those, you try to fix them. Again, at the same time, there’s a point of banging your head against the wall too, right?

"There’s a point of sometimes you’ve just got to go with what works and not worry about it. I think that is a trend across the league. I think there’s more than one team doing that. Just because I didn’t watch tape yesterday, I do watch a lot of tape around the league and I think a lot of teams are pass-first teams now and there’s really nothing wrong with that. All that matters is the end of the game.”

Maybe that gets better against Atlanta, which has struggled this year. The Falcons have allowed more points than any other team 163. (They've played one more game than the Bucs.)

There are other challenges. The Bucs' secondary has to figure out a way to slow down Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan.

So what should we look for out of Winston? It would help if he is efficient (he hit 16 of 20 passes against Chicago). It would help if he could find DeSean Jackson deep. It would help if he took advantage of Mike Evans. It would help if he took care of the ball.

Also, it would help if he would win.

That's kind of a big deal.






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