Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Oakland Raiders-Tampa Bay Bucs: A reverse-logic approach to developing Jameis Winston into a franchise quarterback

TAMPA — Funny how it's all working out.

The Bucs desperately needed a quarterback, so they went out and drafted Jameis Winston first overall. That's where franchise quarterbacks are taken.

Winston is the type of player you build around, the type of quarterback you make the centerpiece of your offense, the type of star who leads you to victories. You want the ball in his hands.

So here's what's so interesting when you watch the Bucs: The offense comes out and snaps the ball to Winston, who promptly hands the ball to a running back.

The Bucs aren't playing around Winston, but they are putting together a game plan that doesn't ask him to move the ball — and mountains — all by himself.

At San Francisco last weekend, the Bucs ran 41 times and passed 30. At Carolina the game before, they ran 37 times and passed 30.

In both wins, Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for more than 100 yards.

Running the ball like that did two important things:

One, the more you run, the more clock you eat, the fewer possessions for the other team. The Bucs kept their depleted defense rested and off the field for big chunks of those games.

Two, it kept pressure off Winston, who threw eight interceptions during a three-game losing skid that preceded those wins. His only interception in the past two games was on a deflection off Mike Evans' hands.

And look at the run-pass ratio from those three losses:

At Arizona, the Bucs passed 52 times and ran 21. Against the Rams, the Bucs passed 58 times and ran 22. Against Denver, the Bucs passed 35 times and ran 26.

Those are typical numbers for losing teams that fall behind and abandon the run to play catchup.

Take the Titans' 36-22 win over the Jaguars on Thursday night. Jacksonville's Blake Bortles attempted 54 passes and threw for 337 yards, most coming in garbage time after the Jags fell behind 27-0. Tennessee threw the ball 22 times and ran 43.

If you don't have to put everything on the quarterback's back and arm, no matter how good he is, you give yourself a better chance to win.

Call it having a balanced offense.

"Balanced is not only run-pass, it's multiple players being involved, touching the football, making a defense defend the whole field,'' Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said.

Monken is right. Just look at the Bucs' past two games and who did what.

Rodgers ran like crazy. Evans caught 14 passes with three touchdowns. Receiver Russell Shepard had a huge day against the 49ers with five catches and a touchdown. Backup and little-used running back Peyton Barber had a highlight day last Sunday, rushing for 84 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown run.

The biggest beneficiary of the Bucs' balance? Winston.

The beauty is that Winston doesn't have to make all the plays and he still makes plenty of splash plays. When not facing third and longs, when not trailing by double digits for most of the game, when not left to win games single-handedly, Winston plays confidently.

He doesn't force throws. He doesn't make mistakes. He leads two-minute drives.

In other words, he plays like a franchise quarterback. Which is exactly what the Bucs need.

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