NFL Key Drive: Jameis Winston Gets It Done

The transition from the college ranks to the NFL is rarely easy for a quarterback. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are seeing steady improvement from Jameis Winston so far this season. Mark Schofield breaks down the critical drive from Tampa Bay’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, and shows how the young quarterback is growing.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned their fourth victory of the year Sunday when they knocked off the visiting Dallas Cowboys, 10-6. The home team needed a drive in the closing minutes of the game to secure the victory, as they were trailing 6-3, and their rookie quarterback delivered. During the drive, Jameis Winston flashed more of the traits that earned him the first overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, with a little competitive toughness to boot.

Play Three

Tampa Bay began this drive at their own 44-yard line after their defense forced a three-and-out on the previous possession. Following a defensive holding penalty, and a four-yard run by Doug Martin, the Buccaneers face a 2nd and 6 at the Dallas 47-yard line. They line up with Winston in the shotgun and 11 personnel on the field, using a doubles formation with a tight slot alignment on each side of the offense. Dallas has a 4-2-5 sub package on the field, and they show Cover 3 before the play:NFLReview10TBPlay1Still1 

The Cowboys roll their secondary to Cover 2 at the snap, while the Buccaneers run a mesh concept. Tight end Brandon Myers (#82) and wide receiver Donteea Dye (#17) run the underneath crossing routes here, while Mike Evans (#13) runs a deep curl route over the middle. Martin runs a wheel route out of the backfield, while Adam Humphries (#11) runs a flat route to the left:NFLReview10TBPlay1Still2

As the play begins, Winston first checks Martin’s wheel route, to see if the RB has a chance for a big play up the sideline. But cornerback Brandon Carr (#39) does a good job of staying in his zone and not getting sucked in by the routes flowing to the inside. Winston then snaps his head toward the middle of the field to read the mesh, and he spots Dye coming across from the left:

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The throw is slightly high, but the rookie WR pulls in the pass and cuts upfield for 11 yards, and a first down inside Dallas territory:

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This was a good display of patience here from Winston – while he wanted the deeper route, he quickly brought his field of vision down to the intermediate routes, read the mesh and found an open receiver.

Play Five

After a quick flat route to Martin netted three yards on first down, Tampa Bay now faces a 2nd and 7 at the Dallas 33-yard line, with just over two minutes remaining. They line up in 11 personnel on the field with dual slot formations. Myers and Evans are on the right in an inverted slot with the TE on the line of scrimmage and inside of the WR. On the left, Humphries is in a tight wing alignment while Dye is outside. The Cowboys stay with their 4-2-5 package, and show Cover 1 in the secondary with nickelback Tyler Patmon (#26) down on the line of scrimmage across from Humphries.

The offense uses a variation of the Mills concept here:NFLReview10TBPlay2Still1From his inside alignment Myers runs a post route, setting this cut up by utilizing a “dino” stem, where he cuts to the outside on a fake corner route before angling back over the middle. From the left, Dye runs the dig route. Evans runs a deep comeback route on the right. Meanwhile Humphries draws the task of helping in pass protection, by chipping defensive end Greg Hardy (#76) before releasing to the flat.

At the snap, Winston opens to his right, and the Myers/Evans side of the field. He initially wants to hit Evans along the sideline, and begins the throwing motion, but then pulls the ball down, quickly resets, and fires toward his TE on the post pattern:

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The throw is just behind Myers, but the tight end does a solid job of reaching back for the football and securing the pass for a critical 17-yard gain, getting Tampa Bay well within field goal range.

Play Six

Coming out of the two-minute warning, the Buccaneers empty the backfield, putting Winston in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field in a 3X2 alignment. Tampa Bay has trips formation on the left, with Dye and Humphries the outside two receivers, and TE Cameron Brate (#84) aligned just outside the left tackle. On the right the Buccaneers use a slot formation, with Evans outside and running back Charles Sims (#34) in the slot. The Cowboys have their 4-2-5 nickel on the field, and they show Cover 2 before the play:NFLReview10TBPlay3Still1

Here is what Tampa Bay runs:NFLReview10TBPlay3Still2

They use a vertical concept on the left, with Humphries running a vertical route that bends to the outside while Brate runs a seam route. Dye comes underneath both receivers on a slant. On the right, Sims runs a curl while Evans runs a post pattern. Dallas drops into Tampa 2 coverage, with linebacker Rolando McClain (#55) turning toward Brate and staying with him on the TE’s vertical release:NFLReview10TBPlay3Still3

As Winston takes the snap he first looks at the TE’s seam route. With the vertical releases from Humphries and Evans causing the two-deep safeties to widen, a seam or post is a perfect way to attack a Cover 2-based scheme. If the defense is in Tampa 2, as they are here, the receiver needs to get a step or two on the linebacker dropping into that intermediate middle zone. However, McClain sticks right on Brate, forcing Winston to come off this route:

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Once he decides against forcing this throw into a tight window, Winston turns his head to the right and finds his RB on the shorter curl route for a simple six-yard gain. Here’s another view of how the QB works through his reads here:

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The rookie really wants to make this throw to Brate, but wisely comes off the route to find Sims. This is a perfect example of a quarterback balancing aggression in a critical situation. Even though Brate’s route is a perfect means of attacking the coverage, McClain is in good position to make a play on a potential throw. Winston smartly checks the ball down to Sims, and the Buccaneers pick up six yards on first down.

Play Nine

On second down Sims picked up five yards on an interior run, giving Tampa Bay a first and goal at the Dallas 5-yard line. The Cowboys then held Martin to a 1-yard gain, setting up this 2nd and goal play from the 4-yard line, with just over a minute remaining. Winston lines up under center with 21 offensive personnel in the game, in an i-formation with pro alignment on the right. Dallas lines up for this play with their 4-3 defense in an over front, and they drop safety Jeff Heath (#38) down onto the line of scrimmage over the TE:NFLReview10TBPlay4Still1


The offense tries playaction here, with a throwback element:NFLReview10TBPlay4Still2


Tampa Bay fakes a power lead to the right, with Martin following behind fullback Jorvorskie Lane (#46). After the fake the FB leaks out to the right flat, while Dye, the X receiver, comes across the formation on a shallow crossing route from left to right. But Evans and Myers, and the TE, run crossing routes against the flow of the play, with Evans tracking along the back of the end zone and Myers dragging across the goalline.

Dallas is ready for this play:

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The Cowboys are in Cover 1 for this snap and, after the fake, linebacker Anthony Hitchens (#59) sticks on the FB into the flat, while rookie CB Byron Jones (#31) tracks Dye’s slant route. On the throwback patterns, Carr stays with Evans’ deep dig while linebacker Andrew Gachkar (#52) recognizes the play and is ready for Myers:NFLReview10TBPlay4Still3

Gachkar is waiting for the TE to drag across, and once he does, the LB gets a terrific jam on him, forcing him off his path and disrupting the timing of the play. Winston first checks the flat route, then the two throwback patterns. But with no available options, he is forced to dump the ball into the back corner of the end zone, and live for third down.

Here’s another look at how Dallas defends the play:

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This is a very good example of a team playing sound goal line defense against the play-action passing game.

Play Ten

Now facing third and goal, the Buccaneers line up with 20 offensive personnel in the game. Winston is in the shotgun and flanked by two running backs, Sims on his right and Bobby Rainey (#43) on his left. Humphries is split to the left and Tampa Bay has Evans and Russell Shepard (#89) in a stack slot on the right. The Cowboys have their 4-2-5 defense on the field showing Cover 1.

The offense tries the mesh concept again, with a slight twist. While Humphries runs a deep slant route, Shepherd and Rainey cross underneath. Evans runs a fade route to the back corner of the end zone, while Sims releases to the flat:NFLReview10TBPlay5Still1

Dallas, again, is ready for this play, and they cover it well. After Rainey and Shepherd cross, there is a slight opening for Winston to run, and he takes off for the goal line:

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The rookie QB makes the snap decision to run, and vaults into the end zone with the apparent go-ahead score. But as he’s launching himself into the sky, he loses the football. Dallas recovers:

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One slight problem for the defense. There is a flag. After Shepherd and Rainey crossed paths, Heath picked up the WR, and grabbed a handful of jersey in the process. The defensive holding penalty gives Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs at the 1-yard line, and gives Winston another life.

Play Ten

Winston immediately cashes in:

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This was the perfect play-call in this situation, and hats off to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter for making this decision. After your rookie QB fumbles, it might make sense to line up in a goal line formation and try and pound the ball with a veteran running back like Martin. But tapping into this, Koetter uses Martin as a decoy, letting Winston run the naked bootleg after the fake:

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The score put Tampa Bay up 10-6, and a last second effort from the Cowboys offense fell short. After the game, the rookie QB gave an inspired speech in the locker room, with a smiling head coach Lovie Smith looking on.

The drive demonstrated some of Winston’s best traits as a quarterback, from his mental processing, his activity in the pre-snap phase, to his ability to work through progressions. It also displayed some of his competitive toughness. After the fumble his coaching staff went right back to him with the next play call, and he rewarded their faith with the game-winning score. While his rookie season has not been without bumps and stumbles, Winston seems to be the perfect player for this franchise and an emerging leader. The smile on his head coach’s face in the locker room might be the best illustration of that last point.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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