Notice something different about Jameis Winston lately? Fewer incompletions? Fewer interceptions? Fewer grass stains?
You're not just seeing things through pewter-colored glasses. During the Bucs' three-game winning streak, there really has been a difference not only in Winston's performance but also in the offensive line's ability to keep him upright.
Before Tampa Bay's Week 10 contest against Chicago, the line had allowed almost nine hits per game. Over the Bucs' past three games, it has allowed five hits per game.
What happened? Coach Dirk Koetter has adjusted the offense to provide better protection for Winston.
"Everybody's got their own philosophy, and we believe in protection first," he said this week. "I mean, trust me, I could draw as many pass routes as anybody out there on the chalkboard, but if your quarterback's getting hit, those routes are no good, so we find that Jameis, like most quarterbacks, is going to play better with a clean pocket."
Starting with the Bears game, Koetter began calling more plays in which receivers and tight ends — usually Adam Humphries, Cameron Brate and Luke Stocker — helped the offensive line by executing chip blocks.
On these plays, Humphries/Brate/Stocker line up near the offensive tackles. Before they release into their routes, they quickly hit an oncoming edge rusher, disrupting his path to Winston. The hit also buys the tackle time to get in position to finish off the rusher.
While the Bucs executed a handful of chip blocks in the first half against the Bears, they used the technique much more frequently in the second half.
Winston has taken advantage of the additional time. Since the start of the third quarter versus Chicago, he is completing a greater percentage of his passes, gaining more yards per pass attempt and throwing interceptions at a lower rate than he was during his first eight and a half games.
|Comp %||Yards/Attempt||TD %||INT %||Rating|
|First eight games and first half vs. Chicago||59.6||6.7||5.6||3.1||85.3|
|Second half vs. Chicago and past two games||68.3||8.9||4.9||1.2||107.1|
Let's examine a handful of recent chip blocks and their benefits.
Game: Week 10 vs. Bears
Situation: Second and 7 from the Tampa Bay 41, start of the fourth quarter
The Bears defense lines up in a wide alignment, with the edge rushers an extended distance from the offensive tackles' outside shoulders. By lining up wide, an edge rusher can build speed before he meets the tackle. If he's fast enough, he'll run right by him.
The Bucs neutralize this on the left side of the formation by lining Cameron Brate across from linebacker Sam Acho. After the snap, Acho has to contend with interference from Brate. By the time he clears Brate, left tackle Donovan Smith is squared up and waiting for him.
Winston hits Mike Evans on a hook route for an 8-yard gain and a first down.
• • •
Game: Week 11 vs. Chiefs
Situation: Third and 5 from the Kansas City 40, 2:46 left in the first quarter
The Bucs bunch two receivers — Russell Shepard and Adam Humphries — on the left side of the offensive line. Linebacker Dee Ford lines up across from Humphries, but he angles his body toward Smith. He doesn't even see Humphries.
After the snap, Humphries (5 feet 11 inches tall, 195 pounds) drives his right shoulder into Ford (6 feet 2 inches tall, 252 pounds) and puts him on his back.
Meanwhile, Shepard, the receiver who was bunched with Humphries presnap, runs an intermediate crossing route. Winston hits him over the middle to pick up 19 yards and a first down.
"It's an adrenaline rush, just being able to create big plays for your quarterback and receivers," Humphries said of chip blocking. "It's a cool opportunity, and as a small guy, it's sometimes fun to see that on film."
• • •
Game: Week 12 vs. Seahawks
Situation: Third and 12 from the Tampa Bay 44, 11:40 left in the first quarter
The Bucs bunch a pair of receivers on both sides of the offensive line. Cecil Shorts, the receiver on the outside on the left, runs a fly route. Mike Evans, the receiver on the outside on the right, runs a deep crossing route. The inside receivers, Adam Humphries and Luke Stocker, chip the Seahawks' defensive ends before releasing into their routes in the flats.
Because of the excellent protection, Winston has plenty of time to wait for Evans' long route to develop before dropping a dime over two defenders.
"If we're punting the ball there, that game could be totally different," Koetter said.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.