Win­ston putting his legs to work

The Bradenton Herald - - Front Page - BY ED­UARDO A. ENCINA

Jameis Win­ston is a run­ning quar­ter­back — of­ten able to ex­tend plays by mov­ing around in the pocket as he tries to find a re­ceiver down­field — but he hasn’t been a rush­ing quar­ter­back.

Gain­ing big chunks of yards with his feet isn’t part of his game, but over the past two weeks, pulling the ball down and get­ting yards on the ground has be­come a key facet of Win­ston play­ing mis­take­free foot­ball and win­ning two straight games.

Win­ston was the Bucs’ lead­ing rusher in last week’s 24-17 win over the Pan­thers — log­ging 48 yards on five car­ries — and his day in­cluded a pair of 18-yard runs that marked his longest of the sea­son.

Go­ing into Sun­day’s game against the di­vi­sion-ri­val Saints at Ray­mond James Sta­dium, Win­ston’s three longest runs this sea­son have come over the past two weeks, both Tampa Bay vic­to­ries. He’s only had three runs of gains equal to or longer in his ca­reer.

“It’s just part of mak­ing great de­ci­sions,” Win­ston said. “And mak­ing great de­ci­sions is a part of win­ning foot­ball games. So as long as we’re do­ing that as a team, and as long as I’m do­ing that, we’re go­ing to win.”

He was also the team’s lead­ing rusher in Tampa Bay’s over­time win over Cleve­land on Oct. 21. Win­ston ran for a ca­reer-high 55 yards on 10 at­tempts and had four car­ries of 9 or more yards.

That game and last week’s win are the only two games in Win­ston’s four-year NFL ca­reer that he’s run for more than 32 yards.

Make no mis­take, the Bucs are still a pass-first team. They rank first in the league in pass of­fense and 26th in rush­ing of­fense. But Win­ston’s new­found will­ing­ness to pull the ball down and take what the de­fense is giv­ing him on the ground in­stead of forc­ing a pass into tight cov­er­age is a sign of bet­ter de­ci­sion mak­ing.

And af­ter throw­ing 11 in­ter­cep­tions in his first five games, he’s thrown none in his last two.

“When you’re in man cov­er­age a lot, not many times you have a guy for the quar­ter­back, so in that case, a lane opens up and you pull it down and tuck it and get what you can get,” Win­ston said.

In re­view­ing film of the Bucs, Saints coach Sean Pay­ton has taken no­tice of Win­ston’s re­cent run prow­ess and he sees a con­fi­dent quar­ter­back.

“They’re putting up re­ally, re­ally big num­bers in the pass­ing game,” Pay­ton said. “But I think not just in the pass­ing game, they’re con­vert­ing on third downs, and he ob­vi­ously has a chance with his legs, if the play breaks down, he can beat you on the ground. He’s done that more so and you’ve seen it now where you feel like you’ve got the per­fect cov­er­age … and then, he climbs the pocket and rushes for a first down. You know he’s com­pet­i­tive, he’s a proven win­ner and I think he’s play­ing that way.”

In the Bucs’ first meeting with New Or­leans, a 48-40 Tampa Bay win at the Su­per­dome in Week 1, quar­ter­back Ryan Fitz­patrick — start­ing while Win­ston served a three­game sus­pen­sion — iced the vic­tory with some de­ci­sive run­ning in the sec­ond half. His sea­son-high 36-yard rush­ing day in­cluded a 12-yard scram­ble on third-and-11 play late in

the fourth quar­ter that al­lowed the Bucs to run out the clock.

“I think Ryan does a good job of that, of just be­ing de­ci­sive and putting the ball down and run,” Win­ston said. “I think that’s al­ways been a part of my game, try­ing to find ways to ex­tend plays and use my feet.”

Last week, both of Win­ston’s 18-yard runs came on sec­ond-and-long sit­u­a­tions.

On both plays, Win­ston saw man cov­er­age, no re­ceivers open and was res­o­lute in fill­ing a run­ning lane while se­cur­ing the foot­ball.

On the Bucs’ first drive of the game, they had sec­ond and 11 at the Car­olina 24.

Tampa Bay had a fivewide, empty back­field set, when Win­ston scram­bles when a hole opened through the mid­dle of the field, run­ning down­field and hold­ing the ball with two hands as three Pan­thers de­fend­ers ze­roed in on him.

That play put the Bucs in the red zone, and three plays later Win­ston con­nected with Adam Humphries for the game’s first score.

“They were in man cov­er­age and he sig­naled to a dif­fer­ent route and when you look at it on tape, the mid­dle kind of parted and he just took it and ran hard,” Koet­ter said.

On the first play of the fourth quar­ter, the Bucs had sec­ond and 13 at the their own 33. With an­other empty-back­field set, a line­backer came free on a rush.

Win­ston pulled the foot­ball down af­ter a pump fake, dodged him and scram­bled up the mid­dle near mid­field be­fore the drive stalled on three en­su­ing of­fen­sive penal­ties.

“We kind of had a lit­tle break­down and he pulled it down,” Koet­ter said.

“We were in empty and we turned it the wrong way — we turned the pro­tec­tion the wrong way and so we were hot. Jameis had a guy in his face. He juked him with a pump and got him in the air — that was a re­ally nice run too. We’re not de­sign­ing it for Jameis to be our lead­ing rusher, but that’s the way it worked out (Sun­day).”

Buc­ca­neers quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston had a pair of 18-yard runs dur­ing last week’s game against the di­vi­sion-ri­val Pan­thers.

Jameis Win­ston didn’t com­mit a turnover the past two weeks dur­ing vic­to­ries over the 49ers and Pan­thers.

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