The verdict remains out on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston as he embarks on his fifth NFL season, and the final year of his rookie deal. The former first overall selection has shown promise and flashes at times, but there have certainly been bumps along the way.
Expectations were high this offseason when the organization lured Bruce Arians out of retirement to take over as head coach. The noted “QB whisperer” would get a chance to work his magic with Winston. The paring seemed like a match made in heaven, as Arians’ vertical-based, “no risk it, no biscuit” offense seemed suited for Winston’s style of play.
Through two games, the results so far largely mirror Winston’s time in the NFL. The Buccaneers are 1-1, and Winston’s play has been up and down. In their Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers he completed just over 55 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. To be fair (Letterkenny reference) he did have two touchdowns nullified due to penalties, and one of his interceptions went through the hands of tight end O.J. Howard.
Winston and the Buccaneers bounced back a bit in Week 2 with a victory over the Carolina Panthers. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown, playing a nearly mistake-free game.
So what can the New York Giants defense expect to see from this Arians-Winston offense on Sunday? We can begin with an isolated Mike Evans.
In an effort to help his quarterback, Arians seems determined to give Winston some half-field concepts to read while still creating opportunities for advantageous one-on-one matchups. Arians does that on the course of a single play by isolating the talented Evans to one side of the formation, while calling for multi-receiver concepts to the other side of the field. Take one of Winston’s first throws of the 2019 season. Facing a second-and-8 early in the first quarter against the 49ers, the Buccaneers line up with Winston (3) in the shotgun and use 11 offensive personnel, isolating Evans (13) on the right:
They run a slant/flat combination to the trips side of the formation, and the tight end runs a sit route over the middle of the field. Backside Evans runs a straight go route:
San Francisco responds with Cover 1, and liking his matchup with Evans on Richard Sherman (25), Winston takes the deep shot backside:
The pass falls incomplete, but Arians throws a quick challenge flag and upon review Sherman is called for defensive pass interference.
Later in the game Arians dials up a similar concept. Facing a first-and-10 early in the third quarter, the Buccaneers align with Winston under center and use a bunch formation to right out of 12 personnel. Evans is isolated on the left. Arians calls for an all-curls concept to the bunch, and Evans gets sent on another go route:
San Francisco drops into a combination coverage, playing Cover 3 to the strong side but leaving Ahkello Witherspoon (23) in “MEG” (man everywhere he goes) coverage on Evans. Winston likes the matchup and takes another deep shot:
Again, it falls incomplete. But sooner or later Winston is going to start hitting these.
Like last week:
Facing a first-and-10 against the Panthers, Tampa Bay lines up with Winston under center and with a tight bunch to the right. Evans is isolated to the left. The Buccaneers run a vertical concept sometimes termed 969, with dual go routes on the outside and a dig route in the middle of the field. Winston sees the Panthers in single-high coverage and comes to Evans on the go route. The receiver does an excellent job with his release off the line and gets to the outside, quickly beating the press coverage and getting open for his QB. Combine the release and route with a perfect throw, and Tampa Bay has a big play.
And yes, every route was open on this snap, just to be clear.
Tampa Bay does not just use Evans on go routes from this alignment, nor do they look to him when just passing plays are called. Against the Panthers late in the game the Buccaneers are facing a second-and-8. They line up with Winston under center, a bunch to the right and Evans on the left:
Expecting a run to try and salt the game away, Carolina crowds the box.
Tampa Bay does have an inside zone running play called (you can tell by how the line and tight end Howard (80) look to block on this play) but seeing the crowded box Winston simply takes the snap and throws a backside slant route to Evans:
Evans gets immediate inside leverage and uses his frame to shield the defender from the football:
Winston puts the throw right between the 1 and the 3 on Evans’ jersey, and the Buccaneers are that much closer to their first win of the season.
Throwing the Concept
Now just because we’ve highlighted examples of Winston working backside to an isolated Evans does not mean he ignores the concept to the multiple receiver side of the formation. In fact, some of Tampa Bay’s best offensive plays this season have come when working to the concept in this X-Iso looks.
Here is how Tampa Bay opened their game last Thursday night against the Panthers:
The offense lines up using 12 personnel, with Winston under center and Evans split wide to the right. Chris Godwin (12) is aligned outside on the left, and comes in short motion towards the formation. When he does this, the cornerback across from him drops off and gives a bit of cushion. Seeing this, Winston looks to Godwin on a simple speed out route, and the receiver makes the defender miss to add on some additional yardage post-catch.
Here is another example. Late in the first quarter the Buccaneers face a third-and-6 on their own 24-yard line. They break the huddle and put Winston in the shotgun, three receivers to the right and Evans isolated on the left:
Look at the alignment from the defense. Carolina shows two deep safeties on this play, and they will drop into a Tampa 2 coverage. With dedicated safety help over Evans, Winston looks to the right on this curls concept:
Winston checks this ball down to Cameron Brate (84), his tight end in the flat:
Brate dives for the first down marker and comes up a bit short, but this play is an example of when Winston looks away from Evans on these X-Iso alignments.
Let’s close with looking at how the X-Iso alignments - and how Evans has been used on them - can influence a defense. Winston’s touchdown pass against the Panthers came on an X-Iso alignment when he looked away from Evans and worked the offensive concept. Facing a 1st and 10 on the Panthers’ 20-yard line, the Buccaneers line up with Winston under center and use 12 offensive personnel. The two tight ends are in a dual wing on the right with Godwin outside of them. Evans is isolated on the left:
Just prior to the snap, Godwin motions towards the football:
This gives the offense this look as the play unfolds:
Look at the alignment in the secondary. One safety is down near the box, on the hashmark near the tight ends. The other safety is aligned outside of the hashmark, shaded towards Evans. Keep that in mind.
Here is what the offense implements:
To the three-receiver side the Buccaneers run a Dino - or double post - concept with Howard and Godwin. Evans runs a go route. Concerned with Evans, the one safety drops to help over the top of a potential vertical route. That creates dual one-on-one matchups backside, with no inside help on either post route.
Winston looks for Godwin on the outside post:
The concern over Evans draws potential safety help away from the three-receiver side of the formation, and leaves both the backside safety and backside corner on islands with no help to the inside. Winston throws a strike, and the Buccaneers are in the end zone.
The Arians-Winston pairing might have gotten off to a shaky start in Week 1, but it seemed to get back on track a bit last week. These X-Iso formations were a part of that. The Giants’ defense needs to be prepared for all the variations that Arians can dial up from these alignments this weekend.