Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Winston and Jackson issues not quantitative

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs for a first down during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets on November 12, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson #11 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs for a first down during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets on November 12, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed DeSean Jackson last year, it was assumed he and Jameis Winston would shoot the lights out of stadiums across the NFL spectrum. Of course, it didn’t happen.

Now, in year two, there are doubts about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ most explosively charged duo and whether or not they can get it together so to speak in 2018.

Recently, in his ‘S.S. Mailbag’ column, Scott Smith of buccaneers.com addressed this topic after being asked about it by a fan of the team.

In the question asked on twitter, James J Carotenuti (@ABuccsFan) attributes the lack of production from Jackson and Winston to the lack of off-season work done prior to the 2017 NFL Season. Or at least the impression of it from where Mr. Carotenuti is watching from.

Scott very professionally disagrees with the idea the two didn’t connect due to reps. However, he also comes back later and kind of agrees. This all got me thinking about quantity and quality.

Recently, as a student of The Scouting Academy, I had the privilege of reading “The Mundanity of Excellence” by Daniel F. Chambliss. It was written in 1989 and is actually written against the backdrop of competitive swimming.

Don’t let any of those fact dissuade you though, the moral of the story still applies. I recommend you read it, but in it’s most dwindled down form the message is essentially that it’s not the amount of training you do, but the quality of the training.

For this situation, Winston and Jackson have had plenty of reps together. And they’ve shown at times the ability to connect. Smith even refers to these moments in his response to the question on the team website.

However, most of these have come in training scenarios. Practice. We talkin’ about practice.

Practice is good. It’s necessary. But any pro will tell you it’s no substitute to what you learn on the field of play. And due mostly to NFL rules in the collective bargaining agreement, there are limitations to what can and can’t be done to simulate game-situations.

Pressure is the biggest missing variable in all of this. The only time Winston gets to try connecting with Jackson with real pressure on him, is in the game. So let’s go back to 2017.

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The issue with this duo isn’t completions, it’s long completions. After all Jackson did have 50 receptions last year. Not his best numbers, but truly not far off his career numbers. What did suffer a drop-off was yards.

2017 marked the first time in Jackson’s illustrious career where he had more than 45 catches and failed to reach 1,000-yards receiving or have at least four touchdowns since his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But getting back to the quality of snaps. Winston dropped back less than 200 times before he was injured agains the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. Of those, no more than 35 could have gone towards Jackson.

I say this because 35 targets is how many Jackson had in 2017 following the completion of the Cardinals match-up. Now, obviously all six of Jackson’s targets that week didn’t come from Winston, so we can accurately estimate the duo tried to connect fewer than 35 times prior to the quarterback’s throwing shoulder being injured.

We all know what happened after the game. Right?

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So, if this is all true. Which it is. Then Winston and Jackson had fewer than 35 tries at building a deep-ball connection before the throwing arm attached to the process changed. This of course resets the process.

Connections with every receiver changed. The further down the field the harder it was to complete. And we also know not all of the passes thrown towards Jackson were deep. So how many deep ball tries did Winston and Jackson get before the injury? Fewer than 25 is my estimation.

Or, not a lot, as the kids say these days.

Some connections are automatic it seems. Players just fit together. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice come to mind. Man, what a tandem.

We forget sometimes though, Rice had 49 catches, less than 1,000-yards and only three touchdowns the first year the two played together. San Francisco lost in the Wild Card round and in that game Rice had four catches for less than 50-yards.

Of course, Rice was a rookie in 1985 so we’ll cut him some slack. The point remains however, it takes time to get something to gel. Both Rice and Montana played in 15 games together in 1985. Yet it wasn’t until 1986 they really became what we all remember.

How much pro experience does Winston have with a true deep-ball threat? One could argue, he’s got four games and almost another quarter’s worth. Rookie-esque?

Yes, he came back, but if you believe his shoulder was 100% when he did then I applaud you on having never experienced a shoulder injury.

I’m not trying to make excuses here for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Obviously we all want and to a certain level, expect, them to be better. But let’s not mistake shorts and t-shirt reps for the real thing.

Let’s not undersell the value of live competition as a teacher or forget struggles are the best catalyst for excellence when the participants are determined to soak it in.

Reps in camp, practices, off-time help. Yes, they do. But, there’s only so much any tandem can accomplish in controlled settings. Unpredictability is what’s missing from this situation. And the more Winston and Jackson experience it together, the better they’ll get at rising above it together.

However, the more they get a chance to do so, the better they’ll get at achieving what they’re trying to achieve. So, then, yes reps matter.

Of course, I have ideas on drills which could improve this without letting the remodeled Bucs’ defensive line pin their ears back against Winston in camp. I’m not suggesting that. For starters, I’d expect to see some extended playing time in the pre-season for these two at least.

If you get a chance, read the Chambliss article. It’s worth your time and has lessons in it anyone can certainly apply to everyday life, not just sports.

But it might give you some further insight as to why Scott Smith and I both indirectly agree and disagree that reps are the key to Jackson and Winston getting it right.

Next: Revamping the Defense

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