Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston’s struggles this season are well documented. Outside of the Jets Ryan Fitzpatrick, no quarterback threw more interceptions the first four weeks of the season than Winston, who has thrown eight while also losing two fumbles.
Now comes a matchup against the Carolina Panthers’ vaunted defense. It may be just what Winston needs.
What the Panthers usually present on the defensive side of the ball is a mostly zone-based scheme in which they play a lot of cover 2 in which their cornerbacks are instructed to back away from the line of scrimmage and play mostly off-man concepts.
The scheme is very similar to what the Bucs ran a year ago under then-coach Lovie Smith and it doesn’t put a premium on playmaking by the corners. That, of course is why the Panthers let Josh Norman go and opened the season by starting two rookies at cornerback.
Those rookies have struggled so much, though, that on Friday the Panthers cut one of them (Bene Benwikere) and their plan currently calls for the other (James Bradberry) to be benched with a turf toe injury for Monday’s game against the Bucs.
What that leaves the Panthers secondary looking like is hard to know, but with the Panthers seemingly leaning toward starting rookie third-round draft pick Daryl Worley, sixth-year career backup Robert McClain or seldom-used Teddy Williams, it still figure to be quite vulnerable. Even to Winston.
Winston has struggled mostly when working against man-to-man schemes require quarterbacks to be pin-point with their accuracy. The same is not always true of zone schemes, because the coverages are sometimes not as tight and the balls are not always as hotly contested.
Now, Winston will still have to deal with the Panthers pass rush, and that’s never easy. But Winston appears to have made great strides in developing a comfort level when working against the kind of pressure packages the Panthers dial up for quarterbacks.
Though he’s only completed 52.5-percent or 31 of his 59 passes, Winston has thrown four of those passes for touchdowns and has only been intercepted once while compiling an 86.6 passer rating against blitzes this year. And Winston has faced a lot of blitzes.
Going into Week 5, no quarterback in the league had been blitzed more often than Winston, who has faced a pressure package of more than four pass rushers on 51-percent or 90 of the 177 drop backs he’s made, according to ESPN stats.
The fact the Bucs have usually been behind in games and have struggled to run the ball are two of the reasons opponents are blitzing them so much, but Winston doesn’t seem to mind the extra pressure. In fact, he seems to welcome it.
“I probably do better in chaos than I do when things are just regular,’’ Winston said this week. “I embrace that. I mean, (responding to) adversity, that’s something I’ve always done well. I look at that as being one of my best attributes.’’