This game was far more frustrating to watch the second time through. This describes the reason why:
Bucs defense making the near-impossible possible: Since 1940 and entering today's games, teams with 100+ rushing yards, 395+ pass yards, 4+ pass TDs were 51-1-1 all-time. Bucs lost with those stats today in 34-29 loss to Falcons.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) October 14, 2018
17 of those 53 teams committed two turnovers, and all 17 won, making this Bucs team the first to lose. Football Outsiders (FBO) also wrote this about the game:
Now since Winston was sacked twice, the net passing yards were actually 389 instead of 395. If we adjust the stat for at least 389 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, four touchdown passes, and include the playoffs, then teams doing that are now 65-3-1 since 1940. So it is a rare loss for Tampa Bay, but when looking into those 69 games, something very interesting stood out: Tampa Bay is the only team to not score 30 points. That’s a big deal, especially when the Buccaneers are one of only 19 teams on the list to allow at least 34 points.
That is staggering. If the offense were to repeat this performance ten more times, they would more than likely score over 30 points all 10 times. Everything that had to go wrong for this to happen did go wrong, which is weird to say because they were only one point away at 29. It’s not enough to say they should have scored over 30; they needed to score over 30, because the defense can’t stop any decent offense from scoring more than 30. That’s what makes this so frustrating. The offense was more than good enough to win, and yet it wasn’t. Placing blame on and picking nits at the offense is the low-hanging fruit here for fans, when the real culprit is the defense. Yet at the same time, those criticisms are still valid.
And not that anyone is counting, but that makes two games the Bucs should have won this season. Instead of 4-1 they sit at 2-3, and are somehow also lucky they aren’t 1-4.
Team Expected Points Added (EPA) per game. Offense is the horizontal axis. Defense is the vertical axis. Up and right are good. pic.twitter.com/ym0RTmbQS0— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) October 17, 2018
Game film and observations:
From the Bucs’ very first offensive play from scrimmage vs the Atlanta Falcons, one thing stood out more than anything else: Caleb Benenoch is really struggling, and his play is singlehandedly handcuffing a lot of what this offense wants to do. He played pretty well in the first two weeks of the season and struggled vs Pittsburgh in Week 3, but he was really exposed badly in Week 4 when he lined up against Akiem Hicks in Chicago. Benenoch just hasn’t been the same player he was in the season’s early weeks. He followed up his very poor Bears game with an equally devastating game here in Week 6. In my estimation anywhere from at least six to a dozen plays were blown up because Benenoch couldn’t execute his assignment, both in the run and pass game. What hurts the most is he’s often the only one, a stark difference from past years. Both of the sacks Jameis Winston took were because of Benenoch. He is still rotating snaps with Evan Smith, but Smith isn’t any better. I just don’t think the solution to this problem is on the roster. The hope here is Benenoch continues to get better with experience, but right now the Bucs just don’t have a starting-quality player for the right guard spot. It will continue to cause big problems, but it says a lot that the Bucs have the fifth-best or most efficient offense in the league anyway.
Winston led the Bucs right down the field on the opening drive of the game and threw a touchdown on a great back-shoulder fade to Cameron Brate that was perfectly placed. Monken did a great job calling easy reads and throws early to get Winston in rhythm. First on a packaged play (or was dressed up to look like one) slant to Chris Godwin and then an easy Spacing concept against zone. But kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed the XP, and it changed the entire complexion of the game. If he makes the kick, the Bucs have 31 points when Winston drives them down into field goal range at the end of the game, which would have set up the tying field goal. But Catanzaro didn’t make the kick.
On the Bucs’ second drive, there’s a couple plays I want to show:
Here is an example of Monken helping Winston, something that didn’t exist in the offense last year, and an example of Winston being Winston. Monken schemes DeSean Jackson open on a slant. Winston needs to take what is given here, but he goes for the bigger play to Godwin on the fade. On first glance the throw doesn’t look good, but Godwin clearly wasn’t expecting the ball either, and it surprises him here. That’s been a theme with Winston and his receivers his whole career. If they aren’t the primary or secondary read they will often run their route assuming they won’t get the ball. With Winston, that’s a mistake, and it’s their job to be ready. It’s something Mike Evans and Adam Humphries had to learn. It’s easy to forget Godwin didn’t see the field much with Winston last season. With that said - throw the dang slant.
The very next play is 3rd and 12:
Here’s the first sack. When watching live during the game it looked like it might be Dotson’s fault, but it’s not. The Falcons take advantage of Benenoch’s lack of awareness here with the stunt, something they surely saw on tape. Benenoch should have handed the tackle off to Dotson and come back to take the end bending into his area. Instead he just carries the tackle into Dotson, who is left with no choice but to chase the end Benenoch should have blocked. Peyton Barber does a great job taking on the linebacker.
I also want to point out it’s clear Winston took his off-season seriously. He is noticeably quicker and more explosive this year. His lower-body strength and conditioning has improved considerably since his rookie year, which has in turn helped the rest of his game. He turns a big loss into a “sack” at the line of scrimmage for no loss.
On the Bucs’ next drive, they went three-and-out, but here was the third-down play:
This is related to the Godwin miss from earlier. The Falcons blitz and Winston has to get rid of it quickly. In the first two weeks of the season Fitzpatrick did a great job of being decisive and delivering an accurate throw. But while he made quick decisions, he wasn’t actually all that quick at getting the ball out. After all those reps, Evans is clearly not used to how quickly this ball arrives and it slips through his hands. This isn’t all that different than what the Browns had to go through when switching from Tyrod Taylor to Baker Mayfield. Throwing with anticipation makes a tremendous difference, and Winston throws this long before Evans turns around. I point this out because there were definitely timing issues sprinkled all throughout this game. That’s on Winston’s suspension, but hopefully it gets ironed out in the coming weeks.
Here’s another example that highlights the offense from the early weeks to now. This is the same play that yielded huge explosive yardage earlier in the season with Fitzpatrick; Jackson comes across the field on a crossing route and has grass in front of him, where he can run toward and up the sideline.
But the pass protection isn’t as good as it was then and there’s a defender in the passing lane. He can’t place it as far in front as he should have and he gets hit on the throw. He still completes it, but both factors kill the yards after catch, turning what could have been a 40 yard gain into just a 19 yard one.
Later this drive, Winston missed Evans deep. We’ve all been waiting to see how Winston’s deep ball would look, and he struggled to connect in this game. Here’s the play with the all-22 angle:
This isn’t a great throw, but I don’t think it’s as bad as Winston’s usual attempts. It should be placed more to the outside and I think it had a tad bit too much air under it. Evans slows up his route trying to sync up with it and ends up not getting to the spot on time. However, if Winston does a better job holding the safety with his eyes towards the middle of the field and takes him out of the play I think this throw is fine and Evans scores. Winston could have also made use of a pump fake to bait the safety.
The drive ended with Winston’s first interception on an attempt to Jackson. While watching the game live it looked like one of the worst throws I’ve ever seen. It’s also the second throw on this drive that’s a vertical outside (or on) the numbers, the throw Winston struggles with the most.
I do think Winston hurried his throw because of the pressure, and Jackson had to bend his route further inside than he wanted to - and the corner got away with contact down the field - but it’s impossible to tell if it really affected anything. I do think it was the right decision, though. Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick probably completes either of these deep passes. The thing is, the deep ball is the only thing Fitzpatrick does better than Winston. Winston did a great job in this game of putting the offense in the right play pre-snap.
The silver lining here is this worked better than a punt and the field position helped the defense get a stop so it didn’t cost the Bucs too much. The offense scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Ronald Jones even caught a pass on a screen for 10 yards!
On the Bucs’ first drive of the third quarter, trailing 24-13, Winston threw his first red zone interception since his rookie season in 2015.
There is no question this was costly, and could have been the difference in the final score. There’s also no question it involved a bit of bad luck that’s outside of anyone’s control.
A lot of people tried to argue that Winston should have gone to Humphries here, but I’ll explain why that’s wrong. First, Winston brought Humphries down into the backfield (neat wrinkle), which gave away the coverage as man and not zone. If you look at the top of the screen, the Bucs have two receivers. The defense would designate Mike Evans 1, and Humphries 2. There are three defenders there, so the Falcons have a 3-on-2 numbers advantage. Winston likely ruled it out pre-snap, as he should have. Also, if you notice, Winston is releasing his throw before Humphries ever even makes it to his landmark and turns around. The closest defender is within two yards of him at that point in time, along with the underneath defender bracketing Evans only five or six yards away. Hump isn’t scoring there.
No, just like on his earlier interception, Winston made the right decision here. The throw just isn’t good enough. To the bottom of the screen the Falcons do have 3-on-4 numbers, but Winston knows Godwin is isolated in man coverage vs the linebacker on a man-beater route. It’s the exact look the Bucs want and the whole point of the design of the play. This same play has scored with Brate a number of times in the past. But the ball needs to be placed higher. An unlucky bounce off the defender’s helmet that went straight up and not to the turf or out of bounds behind them, and it’s an interception.
If anything, the issue is the playcall/play design itself. The Bucs still don’t do enough to scheme players open for easy reads and throws in the red zone. They simply believe that if they spread a defense out and get the one-on-one matchup, they will win it. I get it, and respect it. But why not make it easier? That’s still a relatively low-percentage play. The staff admitted they didn’t execute in the red zone last year. Why not simply make it easier to execute? Why not save the Godwin/Jackson slant concept to run here, for example? Why not an RPO? They added in spread wrinkles so they didn’t ask so many difficult throws. They call them between the 20s, but not enough in the red zone.
Anyway, the defense did get a stop eventually, so the Falcons didn’t get points on this turnover either. But it’s worth pointing out they could have lost by a lot more. On the Bucs’ ensuing drive, Winston marched them right down the field again. They had 3rd and 5 on Atlanta’s 11-yard line:
I wanted to include a clip of Benenoch again. Here he whiffs immediately on a spin from a backup defensive tackle and Winston has no chance. There isn’t even a checkdown available because Barber is chip blocking. There was a receiver wide open at the back of the end zone if he had gotten enough time, but they have to settle for a field goal.
The Bucs only had two drives in the 3rd quarter. They turned both into red zone trips, but they only came away with 3 points. That simply isn’t good enough. As I said earlier, Benenoch busted a ton of plays. It wasn’t just Jameis, and Catanzaro, and bad luck that cost the Bucs points. Benenoch did too.
That brings us to the 4th quarter. From Football Outsiders:
Winston was brilliant in the fourth quarter, when he went 14-of-18 for 176 yards and 11 first downs, including two scores. Each of those 18 passes was thrown with Tampa Bay trailing by five to nine points.
Winston played lights out in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough. The Bucs had three total drives in the period. They yielded 13 points (failed 2pt conversion), and the last drive at the end of the game where Winston drove them to the Atlanta 21-yard line in the final minute. But by my count here the Bucs probably left at least 9 points on the field that day. Here’s the brilliant playcall on the last play of the game:
I just wanted to quickly look at the last play the Bucs had in Atlanta and show what a missed opportunity to steal a game this was. Here it is from the end zone view. If Adam Humphries makes this pitch to DeSean Jackson (even off the bobble) he walks in. #Bucsfilm2018wk6 pic.twitter.com/YqHJBcyvyX— Steven Cheah (@CHEAH_SAY) October 17, 2018
Peyton Barber was fantastic in this game. He’s not the most dynamic athlete, but he’s a solid running back and his pass protection continues to be fantastic. He would have had a lot more yards if it weren’t for the blocking issues. Benenoch did have a few good plays, but it is just so heavily outweighed by the bad right now.
Winston was 4th among all quarterbacks in Week 6 in total defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR - a measure of total value), and first among all QBs in Passing DYAR. He has continued his improvement from last season, which is encouraging, because it shows he still hasn’t reached his ceiling as a passer. He took more checkdowns and overall showed more patience in taking what the defense gave him (Barber finished with four receptions, including a touchdown). The jury is still out on any deep-ball accuracy improvements, but the Atlanta game was not a particularly promising outing. Still, it’s clear they are continuing to work on their timing and he should be given a few more games to sort it out before he is judged for zero progress in that department. And as we saw, he could do some of the little things better to give himself a better chance. If he hasn’t improved, the Bucs will need to design more passes within 20-25 yards that scheme yards after the catch to compensate.
If it weren’t for his deep ball inaccuracy and the turnovers, which went hand-in-hand in this game (and most games), Winston would not only be a complete quarterback, he’d be elite, or very close to it. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say the rest of his game borders on elite. But for now they remain huge question marks that will remain unanswered if or until he answers them.