TAMPA — As they lined up for a first-and-10 play at the Tampa Bay 42-yard-line early in overtime on Sunday, the Raiders poured nine defenders into the box and flat out dared Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to beat them with his arm.
Even on a blustery day, it was a bit a gamble. Winston, after all, is known for having a strong arm, the kind that can cut through almost any wind. But Winston’s arm is as inaccurate as it is strong and that proved to be an issue yet again during the Buccaneers 30-24 loss.
Winston started well in his latest outing, completing eight of his first nine passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He finished poorly, though, completing only four of his last 11 for 29 yards on a day in which he completed just 16 of 32 throws for 180 yards and two touchdowns overall.
The poor finish dropped Winston’s completion percentage to 58.7 for the year. That’s just a smidge above the 58.3 mark he compiled in 16 games as a rookie last year and is further confirmation of something Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said about Winston this past offseason.
Shortly after taking over as the Buccaneers new head coach last winter, Koetter suggested Winston may never become a high-percentage passer as long as he’s his coach because of the demands Koetter’s scheme puts on its quarterbacks.
Koetter and Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken are big believers in explosive plays. Koetter, in fact, reiterated again on Monday that he considers the number of explosive plays produced or allowed to be the second-most important stat in the game, right after turnovers.
That’s why he ignored the 15-mph winds that were gusting past 20 mph at times and dialed up at least five deep throws for Winston on Sunday, including one for Mike Evans on that first-and-10 play from the 42 early in overtime.
Koetter was clearly hoping to change the tenor of the game or, at the very least, deliver a knockout blow to the Raiders. But he attempted to do so by going against one of his own decrees and playing more to one of his key player’s weaknesses than his strengths.
Despite his big arm, Winston has now completed just 22 of the 79 passes he’s thrown when attempting to throw the ball 20 or more yards downfield as an NFL quarterback. That’s 27.8-percent and it should come as no surprise to Koetter.
Improving on his deep-ball accuracy, and in particular on his ability to hit Evans with the deep ball, was at the very top of the to-do list Koetter gave Winston going into the offseason.
Now, six months later and midway through the regular season, it’s clear Winston still has a lot of work to do get to where Koetter needs and wants him to be as a deep ball thrower.
The fact that most of that work is mechanical and requires Winston to either improve or make changes to his footwork and possibly even his delivery, suggest he won’t get to where Koetter needs him to be anytime soon.
That’s why Koetter is the one who may have to make the biggest adjustment, at least in the short term, by reducing the number of deep throws or shot plays he incorporates into his game plan and asks Winston to make.
It would be unwise to eliminate such plays completely, but Koetter may have to be more prudent about where he dials them up, especially if the weather conditions aren’t favorable.
Winston is a valuable weapon, but he’s a young, still-developing weapon running an offense that lacks the deep threats Winston needs to increase his chances of making those big plays.
As they sit right now, the Buccaneers are a team built to run the ball and to make their yards through the air on short and intermediate throws, and the more they lean in that direction, the better they will be and the better Winston will be.