Jameis Winston has struggled this season. With eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in four games, coupled with a 58.2% completion percentage and just 6.4 yards per attempt, are disappointing for those who expected to see a new and improved Jameis — someone who could be a top ten quarterback this year.
In fact, the panic button is now being pressed in some cases. SB Nation’s weekly Panic Index talked about him and Marcus Mariota, who’s suffering through a similar slump, certainly seemed to think the time is ripe for a panic — or at least to see this as a sophomore slump.
There are a few crucial reasons to think this is just business as usual, though. For one, the Bucs have faced extraordinarily strong defenses. The 5th (Denver), 6th (Arizona), 11th (Los Angeles) and 31st ranked defenses, according to Football Outsiders. Tellingly, the only team the Bucs beat was the one with the weakest defenses. That’s not really going to change the rest of the year, either — Tampa Bay just has a very tough schedule, they didn’t last year.
For two, the Bucs have not had an effective running game this year. That, coupled with a defense that keeps giving up a massive amount of points, has led to an almost unprecedented amount of dropbacks for Winston, a somewhat ludicrous 44 attempts per game. Last year, Winston and Koetter could pick and choose when to pass and leaned on Doug Martin for a large part of the offensive production. Not so much this year.
Third, Winston’s performance last year may have been slightly understated. Or rather, a really good middle of the season obscured a slow start and, crucially, a slow finish. In the final four games of his rookie year, he completed just 57.6% of his passes for five touchdowns, four interceptions and 7.4 yards per attempt. The biggest differences between this year’s performance and those final four games are the yards per attempt, and volume — that 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is basically the same.
In other words, when Koetter says Winston hasn’t regressed there’s a very good case to be made he’s right. I’d say Winston is slightly better overall, especially in turns of footwork and mechanics, though the way his mechanics broke down against the Broncos would concern me at least a little.
Most likely, these are just some growing pains magnified by a tough schedule, when last year’s easy schedule and lower expectations masked those same issues.