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What we learned from one half of Jameis Winston

 
Jameis Winston (3) warms up at Chicago Sept. 30 before his first regular-season game since New Year's Eve. (AP Photo/David Banks)
Jameis Winston (3) warms up at Chicago Sept. 30 before his first regular-season game since New Year's Eve. (AP Photo/David Banks)
Published Oct. 6, 2018

TAMPA — The best thing that happened in the Bucs' 48-10 loss at Chicago last week was gettting Jameis Winston into the game.  Sure, it was garbage time, when the results are often trash. But there were some things to savor about Winston's performance.

Winston had not played a NFL football game of any kind in nearly five weeks due to a league-imposed three-game suspension. The last time he played at regular-season speed was New Year's Eve.

His numbers against the Bears weren't awful. Winston finished 16-of-20 passing for 145 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, including one in which his arm was hit by Bears linebacker Khalil Mack.

"I had no intentions of making a quarterback change," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "But when we were down 35, five touchdowns at halftime, I thought it was a perfect time to get Jameis in and get him some timing with NFL game speed.''

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But here's what we learned about Winston from an otherwise meaningless half of football:

  • He appears to be playing more in control of his emotions. The normally ultra-animated Winston was almost robotic at times, but in a good way. He has worked on knowing the difference between passion and emotion and it shows.

Whether it was a good play or a bad one, Winston's expression never really changed in Chicago.  He just played the position, and with his talent, that should be enough.

  • He has great chemistry with Mike Evans, Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate. He should, since he has played three seasons with those receivers. His first three completions, and four of his first five, were to Humphries. The TD went to Brate.
  • Winston still has work to do to get on the same page with DeSean Jackson. If there’s one player sorry to see Ryan Fitzpatrick go back to the bench, it’s Jackson. He has 17 receptions for 424 yards and three touchdowns this season. His 24.9 average this year is more than 7 yards per catch higher than his career mark.

He averaged only 14.6 yards per reception last season with Winston under center. It may have been coincidental, but Winston's worst throw last Sunday was a bench route to Jackson that he missed badly.

"I think you see some plays where Jameis looked very sharp in terms of running the offense,'' Koetter said. "Getting us in and out of the huddle. We ran a fair amount of no huddle when he was in there. Obviously, his scrambling. He didn't forget how to scramble. He made a couple plays in that area. But then at the same time, I think a perfect example is that out route to DeSean, right in front of our bench, where Jameis is going to hit that 99 times out of 100. And he didn't just miss it by a little, he missed it by a lot. And that's something that I think that's one of the benefits of him playing (against the Bears) instead of it possibly happening in Atlanta. Because as much as we try to make practice at game speed, it's not game speed.''

  • Winston is doing a better job of completing the football. His completion percentage of 80 percent in the game is not an accident. Winston has done a much better improving his accuracy and taking what the defense give him.  He went 4 of 5 passing for 55 yards on the Bucs’  lone TD drive.

Nobody competes harder than Winston. Winston did a Houdini act to get out of a sack by Mack and ran for a first down. On one play, he retreated 20 yards before throwing a ball that drew a pass interference penalty. Of course, there's still the downside of Winston holding onto the ball too long. During one sack, he held the football for more than six seconds.

Vea, Jones will play bigger roles

Rookies Vita Vea and Ronald Jones made their NFL debut at Chicago and should also be better for it when the Bucs play at Atlanta Oct. 14.

Vea missed eight weeks of training camp and preseason. The rust was evident, but he was powerful and pushed the pocket.

"Vita Vea, I would say probably what you would expect, from a guy who hasn't played live football since Jan. 1,'' Koetter said of Vea. "Plenty of us are not fans of preseason football, but Vita Vea missed all of preseason football. So, I think his power was on display at times, but these are grown men, NFL linemen blocking him, also.''

As for Jones, he looked better than he did in the preseason. He rushed 10 times for only 29 yards and dropped a pass. But he had not played in any game in a month.

"I could see Ronald making strides,'' Koetter said. "He had some really nice blitz pickups. There were a couple of runs where he got more out of them that might have been there. And then there were two runs that I thought he should've stayed behind the double team and he tried to break it off and got a three yard gain when it might have been a six yard gain. And obviously, when he dropped a screen pass, we had blockers out in front of him. A mixed bag, but I think Ronald is improving in the areas we need him to improve on.''

Pass coverage is non-existent

Bucs coaches will evaluate everything about their league-worst defense during the bye week. What they will find, in addition to only Jason Pierre-Paul playing well on the defensive line, is horrible pass coverage.

The secondary has been hurt by injuries to Vernon Hargreaves and Chris Conte. But the Bucs consistently turned receivers completely loose. Double moves by running backs beat the Bucs linebackers. Cornerbacks went for pump fakes in the flat. There were miscommunications. Safety Justin Evans fell down. Brent Grimes seemed disinterested in tackling and was benched the second half. You can't play worse than that, can you?

"The nice thing about having a bye right now is we've got four games to look at,'' Koetter said. "We go back and we do a self-scout every year at this time. We study ourselves and we're just giving up way, way too many explosive passes. It's a combination of not getting enough pressure on the quarterback and we're certainly not covering well enough at any level, in the flat, the lower level or the middle level, where Chicago really attacked us.''

Contact Rick Stroud at stroudbucs@aol.com. Follow @NFLStroud