For the second time in as many years, Drew Brees looks like he’ll be missing significant time for the New Orleans Saints. The future Hall of Famer is sidelined with a myriad of broken ribs and collapsed lung, which means Jameis Winston is going to have to step in and take the reigns for the Saints.
While the common thought is that Teddy Bridgewater was great for the Saints last year — indeed, he earned himself a contract with the Carolina Panthers by going 5-0 as a starter for the Saints when Brees was injured — Winston presents a unique challenge. The gameplan for him will have to be completely different.
At the most basic level, the numbers back this up. Last season, Winston was second in the league in intended air yards at 10.5 per attempt, trailing only Matthew Stafford. Bridgewater, meanwhile, was dead last at 6.2 yards per attempt. The reason this is challenging is because Brees wasn’t far off from that number. He averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt last year, the fourth fewest in the league. This year, the story is much the same, as Brees is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, the second fewest in 2020.
With Winston, Sean Payton is looking at a completely different player, whereas with Bridgewater a few tweaks would have done the trick, and did. The biggest problem for Winston in the past is something the Saints cannot and will not abide by: Turnovers. If turnovers become a problem, expect Payton to have a quick hook. A 30 interception pace will not fly.
The Buccaneers last season under Winston did a lot in the flat. According to Next Gen Stats, Winston was excellent in the flat, with a 106.7 passer rating to the left and 103.6 to the right. Where he’ll absolutely have to get better is within 10 yards over the middle, where he was an abysmal 63.9. Here’s a look at the full chart:
There’s quite a bit of good there, but some serious issues too.
With Winston under center, expect Payton to try to take a more aerial attack, at least in the middle of games. However, don’t expect changes in the emphasis on the running game and the flats.
This might actually prove to be a huge boon for Emmanuel Sanders, if Winston proves to have an arm that he can’t outrun. While that’s good news, players with the precision of Michael Thomas may struggle at times, so the Saints likely won’t place as much emphasis on him offensively.
All things told, this might be the time we see Payton start to dust off the old 2011 playbook. If things go well, this could lead to a more air raid-oriented offense, but 2011 had all sorts of quirky screens and schemes designed for quarterbacks with Winston’s arm strength to open up the field.
One thing is for certain in this offense: It won’t be boring. There were times last season where Bridgewater would grind games to a halt, which was what the Saints needed him to do. That’s not Winston’s game, and it would undoubtedly be folly of Payton to ask it to be. And if there’s one thing Saints fans know about Sean Payton by now, it’s that he’s happy to adapt to the situation, no matter how far out of his comfort zone it may be.
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