Overview: if the Buccaneers plan to escape the Georgia Dome on Sunday victorious, they're going to have to win the battle through the air. Good thing they've got a "soldier" to get that done. Kellen Winslow, Jr., our big offseason acquisition, has certainly made a huge splash in Greg Olson's vertical-based passing game, especially since big-armed Josh Freeman took over the offense. In a lost season of developing young talent, struggling players transitioning from situational roles to full-time starters, and underperforming veterans, Winslow has been the Northern Star, the one constistent and reliable option the Bucs can turn to. That's not to say there aren't issues with Winslow dropping uncontested passes or committing a boneheaded penalty, because certainly as we've seen, he's been as guilty of committing drive-stopping mental mistakes as much as anyone. That being said, he is the Buccaneer offensive weapon X...a big, fluid, playmaking wide receiver in the body of a tight end. An impossible matchup one-on-one for any linebacker and a difficult matchup for safeties, he gives the Bucs a mismatch on the field at any given time. What's even more impressive about Winslow has been his ability to consistently get open in single coverage when splitting out and facing a nickel corner or a safety, rather than having to be brought in tight like your typical TE in order to get a matchup advantage against a linebacker.
Let's take a look at some of his highlights:
As we can see, the beauty of the shotgun, spread formation against man coverage with KW split out is that it not only creates a single-coverage mismatch for KW, but it puts the defender on KW so far away from other defenders that it makes it impossible for that defender to get help on KW without the help defender basically having to abandon his assignment to do it.
In the first video clip, we see KW stay in tight to block, which he did successfully on the rushing OLB Bobby Carpenter, then release and take the dump off down to the three yard line.
Next, we see a two-TE set, running play, KW on the weak side of the field, matched up against Buffalo CB Terrence McGee. KW takes off on a seam route and burns McGee, who's in man coverage, for a beautiful TD. Forget the play action, he took the corner, who's looking pass-first, and beat him straight up. WR speed there from our talented TE.
Against Washington, KW splits off the line a bit, lined up inside, shotgun formation, against drop zone coverage. He blows off the line past the underneath linebacker responsibility and cuts his route out to the soft spot of the zone between the underneath CB zone and the safety's help area. Perfectly run route, good pass, nice catch. Great execution.
Against Philly, we see a shotgun wide offset weak formation. Single coverage on all receivers. The Eagles chose to take a run at Josh Johnson with an OLB blitz on KW's side of the field, which left KW in isolated coverage on FS Macho Harris. KW comes off the line, gives a slight hesitation and head fake, and cuts an inside route in front of the smaller DB, giving him perfect inside position for Johnson to deliver a high pass that only the bigger KW could get to for the touchdown.
Next, we see... another red zone opportunity against the Eagles, another Eagle blitz off the edge, another single-coverage matchup on KW (SS Quintin Mikell), another inside route, another high throw, another tremendous leaping catch for a KW touchdown.
Look back at Week 11: As noted by Paul in his piece this week, there was basically no reason to do anything other than stick the game video in the microwave and hit start. Hard to fully evaluate your receivers when your QB gets the yips and can't complete a pass. Winslow led the team in catches with 5 (for only 29 yards) and was open over the middle of the field several more times in single coverage, but Freeman flat out missed him. Just a hopeless game all around for the offense.
Look ahead at Week 12: I didn't get the name "Same-play Smith" in Madden for no reason. If you have a matchup advantage, keep riding that advantage until the defense adjusts. The developing chemistry between Freeman and Winslow is obvious. Freeman found Winslow for a TD against the Packers and found him all over the field out of the shotgun spread formation against the Dolphins. He found Winslow more times than any other receiver last week. The Falcons rank 29th against the pass in YPGA, and have been incredibly accomodating to opposing TEs this season. They actually have, in standard scoring leagues, allowed the most fantasy points to opposing TEs. FS Thomas DeCoud, SS Erik Coleman, and WLB Stephen Nicholas will have fits trying to stay with KW in single coverage. If KW gets off to a hot start, I suspect they'll have to draw some underneath LB double-team help to try to slow down the short and middle routes to Kellen, which should open up opportunities in the middle for the backs and slot receivers.