One game into the season, Jameis Winston is 28th in the NFL in passing yards. He also leads the league in touchdowns. Such is the duality of the New Orleans Saints offense, which proved to be brutally efficient on Sunday in a 38-3 walloping of the Green Bay Packers. Winston threw for 148 yards — with 55 of those yards coming on a deep completion to Deonte Harris — and five touchdowns.
The key to Winston’s success was a myriad of things. Terrific gameplanning, a balanced offense, and a defense that kept the Packers’ offense off the field, thus exhausting the Green Bay defense. But chief among the factors that led to Winston’s huge day was an offensive line that let him be patient, methodical, and confident in his decision-making.
Marquez Callaway’s game stands on its own merits, but as long as he’s the standing No. 1 receiver he’s going to draw comparisons to Michael Thomas. This is a staple of Thomas’ game. Against a zone defense from the Packers, the Saints make it easy on Winston with a levels route between Alvin Kamara and Callaway. Callaway comes across the formation on a deep drag, while Kamara clears out the linebacker by leaking underneath.
Deonte Harris, pictured at the bottom, runs a straight fly route. Against the Cover 3 the Packers are playing, in theory this should freeze the middle linebacker in no-man’s-land while clearing out the secondary players to deal with players going deep.
For these plays to work, there needs to be a commitment from the defense. The linebacker just in front of Callaway hesitates for just a second when Kamara breaks towards the sideline. Meanwhile, Callaway keeps running a cross. That ever-so-slight freeze lets Callaway shake loose, and Winston has an easy completion. But it’s what Winston does to find Callaway that is so impressive.
Gone are the days where we hear about how short the Saints’ quarterback is. Winston stands tall in the pocket, lets his line form a formidable wall around him, and steps up to find room. Furthermore, running was absolutely an option on this play, as was playing it safe and hitting Kamara, but he saw the linebacker freeze and hit Callaway in stride in real-time. That’s advanced quarterback processing.
That little shoulder wiggle is quintessentially moving the pocket, and he’s making his own space. This being Winston’s first completion of the game sent a very important message to the Packers: You aren’t going to beat the Saints rushing four, and you’ll get punished if you try.
Later in the drive, the Packers are going to try something different with a stunt inside to shake the Saints offensive line. On top of that, they do away with zone defense on this play. After all, Jaire Alexander and Kevin King should be able to handle Callaway and Harris in coverage, right?
The correct answer, as it turns out, is that it doesn’t matter! The Saints completely stalwart the attempted stunt up front, and create a gigantic pocket for Winston to step into. To make matters worse for the Packers, they neglect to leave a player to spy on Winston, allowing Winston to take off for a 15-yard gain.
This was a big part of Winston’s game on Sunday. He exploited soft points in zones, but he was perfectly comfortable to run against man coverage. The offensive line created gigantic pockets to navigate, and Winston did so extremely effectively.
This is the kind of play that passes quietly for most players, but football fans were not going to let it do so for Winston. The reason for that is because, quite frankly, you don’t throw 30 interceptions in a season by throwing the ball away. However, that’s exactly what Winston does on this play action shot play, that looks like it is meant to go to Taysom Hill but is well-defended by the Packers.
There will be some who say that this is Winston’s best throw of the day. While that is a lie — the touchdown pass to Harris takes that award — it is a clear sign of growth. The offensive line allows this to not be a perfect rep for Winston. Hill gets caught up in traffic, and after that, Winston appears a bit lost, even getting flat-footed for a moment. However, with the Packers still rushing four, Winston recovers and throws it out of bounds, getting the Saints another breath.
To make things better, this series ended in a touchdown for the Saints, further validating the decision.
The offensive line of the Saints was always going to be one of the best this season, but they made life a nightmare for the Packers. It was rare anyone got close enough to give Winston any kind of duress, and even if they did, Winston was generally able to either step up or run.
This game left quite a few questions about Winston open-ended, and New Orleans was allowed to be fairly conservative with him. However, he showed a little bit of everything. He was going through progressions, he had a beautiful deep ball, and he made the right decisions in real-time. All of those started with the offensive line.
If nothing else, this game vindicated the decision to start Winston. Now, of course, he has to keep it up next week against the Carolina Panthers.
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