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Buccaneers-Panthers: Why Jameis Winston will bounce back

In this preview: Gerald McCoy knows what the Bucs will do to him. Plus, players and matchups to watch.

Two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The exact opposite of what you expected from the beginning of the Bruce Arians era in Tampa Bay.

Jameis Winston’s 55th NFL start wasn’t just bad. It was the worst of his career. Worse than his 2015 debut against the Titans in which his very first pass resulted in a touchdown — for the other team. Worse than his four-interception performance against the Bengals last season, the one that prompted coach Dirk Koetter to bench him in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Was Sunday a sign of things to come or will he bounce back tonight against the Panthers?

The answer: Yes.

Let’s start by putting his performance in the Buccaneers’ loss to the 49ers into context. The statistics gurus at Football Outsiders compare every quarterback’s performance with the type of performance you would expect from a theoretical replacement-level quarterback. Then, after accounting for situation and the quality of the defense, they translate the difference into yardage. They call their metric defense-adjusted yards above replacement, or DYAR.

For example, Jimmy Garoppolo produced -1 DYAR against the Bucs on Sunday, meaning he was almost exactly replacement level. Winston? He produced -222 DYAR. In other words, he was 221 yards less effective than Garoppolo. Welp.

But that doesn’t mean Winston will be that bad again tonight. If we look at Winston’s five worst starts by DYAR, we find that he rebounded to respectability in his next start. In fact, the Bucs won four of the five games.

Winston's five worst starts
Season Opponent Result Traditional statistics DYAR DYAR next start Result next start
2016 at ARI L 40-7 27/52, 243 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT -173 64 L 37-32
2018 at CIN L 37-34 18/35, 276 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT -158 143 W 27-9
2015 vs. TEN L 42-14 16/33, 210 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT -156 65 W 26-19
2015 vs. CAR L 37-23 26/43, 287 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT -130 91 W 38-31
2016 vs. DEN L 27-7 17/35, 179 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT -126 47 W 17-14

What about when Winston plays well? If we look at his five best starts, we find that he often declines significantly in his next start. Some of this can be attributed to regression to the mean, but Winston’s inconsistency is a factor, too.

Winston's five best starts
Season Opponent Result Traditional statistics DYAR DYAR next start Result next start
2015 at PHI W 45-17 19/29, 246 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT 173 -8 L 25-12
2017 at BUF L 30-27 23/32, 281 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT 172 -98 L 17-3
2016 at ATL W 31-24 32/44, 384 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT 148 -173 L 40-7
2018 vs. SF W 27-9 29/38, 312 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT 143 96 W 24-17
2018 at ATL L 34-29 30/41, 395 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT 137 15 W 26-23 OT

There’s a good chance then that Winston plays well enough for the Bucs to upset the Panthers. Even so, don’t count on him maintaining that level of performance. That’s just who he is. Sometimes he’s good and sometimes he’s bad, but he’s always unpredictable.

MORE BUCS: Who does Jameis Winston miss most?

Little rest, big problem?

Five years ago, the Bucs played a late Sunday afternoon game at home against the Rams. Four days later, they traveled to Atlanta and got obliterated 56-14. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devin Hester and the Falcons moved up and down the field as they pleased, scoring five touchdowns in the first quarter and a half. At the time, it was the largest blowout in a Thursday night game since the NFL started regularly scheduling them in 2012.

The Bucs will face a similar scenario tonight in Charlotte. When Tampa Bay and Carolina kick off, the Bucs will have had about 96 hours to rest and prepare. Advantage Panthers? You would think so, but recent history suggests otherwise.

Since 2012, there have been 14 games in which teams have played under the same conditions as the Bucs — a visiting team playing on Thursday after playing a late Sunday afternoon or night game. The visitor won as often as it lost, a surprise given that overall home teams win 57 percent of the time.

Visiting teams on Thursdays after playing a late Sunday game
Season Away team Home team Result Point diff
2018 Bears Lions W 23-16 7
2018 Eagles Giants W 34-13 21
2017 Broncos Colts W 25-13 12
2017 Saints Falcons L 20-17 -3
2016 Washington Cowboys L 31-26 -5
2016 Falcons Bucs W 43-28 15
2014 Titans Jaguars L 21-13 -8
2014 Saints Panthers W 28-10 18
2014 Vikings Packers L 42-10 -32
2014 Bucs Falcons L 56-14 -42
2013 Saints Falcons W 17-13 4
2013 Bengals Dolphins L 22-20 OT -2
2012 Saints Falcons L 23-13 -10
2012 Patriots Jets W 49-19 30

MORE BUCS: In trying to avoid dubious 0-2 start, Bucs will have to regroup quickly

Matchups to watch

Bucs offensive guard Alex Cappa vs. Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy: “I already know what they’re going to try to do to me,” McCoy said this week about his former team. “But I know how everybody blocks. I know what everybody over here does well, so I’m kind of helping put together matchups.”

What will the Bucs do? McCoy wouldn’t elaborate, but the guess here is that they will try to run right at McCoy, who has a better reputation as a pass rusher than a run stopper. His sometimes shaky run defense was on display during a Todd Gurley 25-yard gain Sunday. On the first-down play, Rams right guard Austin Blythe (66) shoved McCoy (93) out of his gap, creating a lane a sumo wrestler could have run through.

Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner vs. Bucs linebacker Devin White: White struggled in pass coverage against the 49ers, allowing catches on all six of the passes into his coverage, including a big gain by running back Tevin Coleman halfway through the second quarter. San Francisco had Coleman (26) run a shallow crossing route, and as White (45) pursued Coleman, he ran into teammate Lavonte David (54). The pass traveled 1 yard beyond the line of scrimmage; Coleman ran another 30.

Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles vs. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton: Bowles called a blitz on about half of Garoppolo’s dropbacks Sunday, but even so, the Bucs rarely generated pressure. With the weapons Newton has at his disposal — Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore — Tampa Bay must be more disruptive. Oddly, even though Newton is less efficient against five or more pass rushers, opponents have been calling blitzes less often. Their rate of blitzes fell in 2018 for the third straight season, to 25 percent, according to Football Outsiders.

MORE BUCS: Christian McCaffrey and the attack of the killer running backs

Prediction

Newton struggled Sunday, and yet the Panthers still managed to score 27 points against a defense featuring Aaron Donald and Aqib Talib. It makes you wonder how many they’re going to score against a Bucs defense that barely laid a finger on Garoppolo. It has been awhile since Tampa Bay won under the lights. It has lost its past five night games and its past five Thursday night games. The pick: Panthers 28, Bucs 25.

Statistics in this report are from Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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