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Jameis Winston’s scrambles become more important in the new NFL

Cleveland Browns v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccanees put a lot of work into planning their offense, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Actually, they usually don’t. Defenses are more multiple and difficult to read now than they’ve ever been, as Matt Ryan told ESPN. The Falcons quarterback suggested that he’s no longer reading defensive schemes so much as just looking for open spots.

“See spots. That's my thing now,” Ryan said. “The older I've gotten, the more that's become my thing. Don't worry so much about where defenders should be or where they're supposed to be or all those kinds of things. Just see spots. And design most of your pass plays to be spot-read instead of coverage-based. Instead of getting loaded down thinking, ‘In this coverage, I'm going here; in that coverage, I'm going there.’“

That’s an interesting development, and one that has its consequences for the Bucs, too. Jameis Winston is’t the quickest-twitch quarterback, but he does have a good understanding of pass concepts and generally knows where to go with the football. Even then, though, it’s not always clear what to do — and when it’s not clear, you ge scrambles, as Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter explained.

“(Offensive coordinator) Todd Monken tells the offense all the time that our No. 1 pass play – if you think about it, you've got all these concepts – our number-one pass play is 'scramble,'“ Koetter said on Saturday. “He did a study and there were, like, 90 of them, 70 of them…I can't remember the number. It was 70 or 90 last year.”

That’s a lot of scrambles, what with Winston attempting 535 passes, 54 runs and getting sacked 27 times. That means he scrambled every 10 to 13 dropbacks, depending on whether 70 or 90 is the correct number.

Those plays add up over time, and they can turn a game around. Russell Wilson’s become a master of those scrambles over the years, perhaps in part because of his height — it’s hard to see what’s going on from the pocket when you’re significantly shorter than your linemen.

At the same time, it’s hard to build an offense around scrambles. They are, by nature, unpredictable. Wilson may get lots of big plays out of them, but he also has one of the highest sack rates in the NFL. Winston, meanwhile, has done very well on scrambles — but he also gets hit just a little too much for anyone’s liking when he does. At least he doesn’t get sacked: he’s too good at getting rid of the ball in time for that.

The direction the NFL is heading in is interesting, though: more and more quick passing. Meanwhile, the Bucs are actually going in the opposite direction: they still want a ground-and-pound offense with an intermediate to deep passing game. Maybe that will work, and they’ll trounce the lighter and quicker teams by beating them into submission. Or maybe they’ll be stuck with an increasingly antiquated system as the NFL moves on. We’ll have to wait and see.