Bucs offense showing balance in passing game
The Bucs offense needs points more than yards moving forward, but four games into the 2017 season, they're showing a prolific and balanced passing offense built around quarterback Jameis Winston.
The Bucs' early game Thursday night put them back even with all but two NFL teams in playing four games each entering Sunday, and as a statistical quirk, the Bucs have four players with at least 200 receiving -- Mike Evans (276), DeSean Jackson (249), Adam Humphries (207) and Cameron Brate (205). Only one other NFL team can boast that -- the Patriots, who have five such players but have also now played five games.
The Panthers and Giants are the only other NFL teams with even three 200-yard receivers -- more than half the league has only one, and four teams -- the Bears, Ravens, Jaguars and Raiders -- don't have a single player with 200 receiving yards. Last year's Bucs didn't get a fourth player to 200 receiving yards until Nov. 27, after 11 games.
Winston has more yards than he did after four games (1,198-1,108), fewer TD passes (8-7) but much fewer interceptions -- only three, compared to eight at this point last season. And the Bucs' passing balance will be difficult to sustain, but it shows how well the Bucs have shifted the offensive burden off receiver Mike Evans -- at this time last year, he had 360 yards, and Humphries (205) was the only teammate with even half as much.
And while much has been written about Jackson's lack of connection early on with Winston, he's coming around nicely. His average of 17.8 yards per catch is third in the NFL among players with more than 10 catches. Last year, he averaged 17.9 yards per catch, most among NFL players with more than 40 catches. This time last year, Vincent Jackson had 137 yards on 25 targets (5.5 average); DeSean has 249 on 30 targets, a considerable upgrade at 8.3 yards per target.
Having four players with 200 yards now won't likely extend to having four with 800 at the end of the season, but even if the Bucs finished with four at 600, that would be a first in the franchise's 42 seasons. They had three at 600-plus just twice ever -- and not since 1995 -- until Evans, Brate and Humphries did it last year, and DeSean Jackson has helped in joining that group.
Having said all this, the Bucs aren't throwing more this year -- through four games, Winston has 90 more passing yards on 23 fewer pass attempts compared to last year. His yards per attempt, a key statistic for offensive efficiency, is up from 6.3 yards at this point last year to. 7.8, which ranks the Bucs seventh in the NFL.