The Saints have officially brought back Jameis Winston on a 2-year deal, guaranteeing that he will be under center for the team in 2022. This news will ultimately mean that we may finally get a chance to witness the full progression of the former Heisman Trophy winner in the Saints offense.
This past season, the team did a poor job of surrounding Winston with talent, specifically at the pass catching positions. Injuries to All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas and much of the receiving core to start the year, ended up leaving Winston with practice squad players and league busts as his top targets.
Barring these circumstances, Winston was still able to command the offense and take care of the football, which in turn led to games being won. The minimum of what you want in a starting caliber quarterback.
Winston though, has the potential to do more than just that...
We all saw glimpses of Winston's arm talent on full display as he hit some impressive deep throws that we haven't seen from a Saints quarterback in quite some time. We also saw him make progressions in the decision-making aspect in which he had struggled with in his past.
It was amazing to not only to see the growth from a former first overall pick who had been slandered for his play. but to do what he did with little to no assistance on the field, speaks volumes of Winston.
Once we found out the team was running it back with Winston at the helm, I chose to put together a group of plays explaining those areas of growth we saw from Winston last season and why I believe he would’ve been and will be better with more help around him.
The one aspect of Winston’s game that everyone gets excited about is his ability to create explosive plays with his huge arm, so we will go through those first.
A lot of the time, Winston’s home run hits came off of play-action or tighter formations that explode vertically and horizontally. Winston's success rate was tops in the league as it pertains to these types of plays.
His arm strength didn’t just make everything easy though, he had to learn accuracy and recognition. And in the very first game of the regular season, he showed us just that...
Early in the 4th quarter, the Saints come out in a heavy, three tight end set giving off the impression of a run play. Receiver Deonte Harty comes in motion and proceeds to run what would be a Banana route while tight end Juwan Johnson runs a deep out underneath him.
Here is where it gets interesting. The Packers are in a two high safety look playing off coverage, which would most likely mean they are running one of two things, Cover 2 Zone or Cover 4. Winston would find this out post-snap.
He comes off his run fake hoping for the safeties to come down on the run first (which is their job, if it is Cover 4 - Read Run). However they don’t flinch. As he gets into his drop back, he keeps his eyes on the safety and the cornerback to the play side to see what their reaction is. If the safety bites down hard on Juwan Johnson, it means Cover 4. If the corner bites it, Cover 2. Harty will run his route differently depending on the coverage, which makes it extremely important that he and Winston are on the same page.
As the play continues to develop, the safety does in fact jump down to cover Johnson opening up tons of field for Harty to run through.
Winston sees this before Harty even clears Green Bay’s Kevin King and anticipates it perfectly to throw a dime right over his head for a 55-yard touchdown strike.
Just a few weeks later, we would see a similar connection between the two.
Here the Saints come out in a double tight set on 3rd & 7 at their own 28. Washington is playing a disguised 3-Deep 3-Under Zone Blitz where the strong safety will jump backwards to play deep middle and the free safety goes on to play hook to curl. This rotation happens right at the snap of the ball.
The Saints happen to run a similar concept as the one they did versus Green Bay, only difference is that Harty will now break to the post instead of the corner. There is also a dig being run across the middle of the field by Marquez Callawa, which is a big influence on this play as well.
So here Winston is reading the deep safety in the middle of the field to see if he jumps the dig route or plays back with the post. Being that Washington does attempt to disguise and drop the deep safety late, Winston and Harty have a head start to the middle of the field regardless if the safety recognizes it or not.
With Winston’s arm and Harty’s speed, it’s simply too late for the safety to get there.
BOMBS AWAY.— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) October 10, 2021
Jameis Winston ➡️ Deonte Harris for the 72-yard score pic.twitter.com/kWRe0ykCNK
These examples give us a great depiction of what it looks like when Winston is on cue and the talent at the receiver position matches up.
We’ve seen Winston’s capability to make these types of throws in his past tenure as a Buccaneer but the coverage wouldn’t often dictate his decision to throw it nor was the accuracy there to make the throw.
Winston has made clear strides in these areas.
The other obvious aspect of Winston’s game that has emphatically improved is his ability to protect the football and not put it in harm's way. This was not only evident in his minimal number of turnovers (4) but within his on the field decision making.
One of the things I noticed a ton of during last season was Winston’s ability to take off and run for crucial first downs instead of risking a tight throw. This once again derives from his ability to recognize defense quickly, particularly man-to-man coverage.
In every single one of these plays, Winston recognizes the man coverage immediately and doesn’t hesitate to run with the football. You’ll also see him direct traffic to clear space while on the move as well. Winston is able to run in man-to-man due to the fact that every player in coverage is traveling with their receiver or respective match up leaving no eyes on the quarterback.
For as well as Winston played, there were however too many plays to be left out on the field during his time starting. Of those plays, a good percentage of them were not always on Winston himself. Much of the time, Winston’s receivers struggled to create separation and secure the football when thrown to. Veterans even had rookie-like mishaps as well.
For example, here receiver Tre’Quan Smith gets wide open on a seam route down the middle of the field. Once he feels open, he slows down right as Winston releases the ball missing out on a touchdown opportunity.
A lot of these plays coincidentally would happen in the very same game. On this one, the Saints run a switch concept which allows Kenny Stills to run free down the sideline. Granted Winston is a little late, Stills drops the ball before the safety can make a play. Anywhere from an average to an above average receiver is able to make this play.
On this one, Winston recognizes man-to-man, single-high which means pick your best matchup. He gets exactly what he wants with a speed guy in Kevin White on the outside. White gets a clean release off the line, beats his guy but cannot reel in the reception.
Seeing all these missed opportunities should give the front office much reason to significantly improve at the pass catching positions. It was hard enough to watch for fans of the team, let alone being the distributor for them. If the team adds some talent to go along with Michael Thomas, we could see Winston really take a big step forward in his second year as the starting quarterback.
With all the chaos this offseason, it's relieving to know that the Saints have their guy in Winston for this upcoming season. There’s a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to Winston as the New Orleans Saints quarterback but there could be some challenges ahead especially with Sean Payton gone. It will be interesting to see how the team can even out the playing field a little bit by adding more in free agency and the draft. We shall soon find out in the upcoming weeks.