Winston, Saints offense remain works in progress
The hot button issue prior to the start of the 2021 season for the New Orleans Saints season remains a hot button issue six games into the season.
Who is Jameis Winston as an NFL player and what can the Saints offense become with Winston at quarterback?
The questions remain.
While the overall production of the offense, outside of the opening week thrashing of Green Bay, is only acceptable to marginal, you have to like what Winston has done as opposed to what he has not done.
What Winston has done is throw touchdown passes and limit turnovers, the latter of which was the primary concern regarding his overall potential package entering the season.
Winston has 13 touchdown passes in 151 attempts and has thrown just three interceptions. He has lost one fumble.
What Winston has not done is to complete passes at a high rate or to produce a lot of points.
Winston is completing 58.9 percent of his throws while the Saints have scored 102 points in their last five games, an average of just 20.4 points per contest.
Reviewing the Monday Night 13-10 win over Seattle, there were several factors to point to.
First were the conditions, windy and rainy, which made it difficult to throw the ball with any consistency or accuracy.
Yes, Winston missed some easy short throws, particularly early in the game.
On the other hand, Winston checked it down wisely to Alvin Kamara, the offense’s best player, who had 10 receptions.
There were a couple of instances where Winston did not see the whole field and an open receiver.
There were a couple of throws were simply a little late, allowing defenders to recover and to cover up receivers or to get in the way of a potential touchdown pass, as was the case with Marquez Callaway in the back of the end zone.
There was miscommunication with receivers, most notably Tre’Quan Smith, who slowed down on one deep ball that he may have caught had he continued running and drew the heated ire of Winston on a second occasion when Smith appeared to line up incorrectly.
While some may look at that heated exchange as problematic, it actually displayed strong leadership by Winston, taking charge, letting a teammate know what needed to occur.
Then, there is the overall ability or the limitation of the receiving corps, as a whole.
While Kamara has 25 catches for 241 yards and four touchdowns, the top wide receiver is Callaway, who has a modest total of 16 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns in six games.
Then, there is the matter of tight ends.
Over the years, tight ends have thrived in the offense of Sean Payton, including Jeremy Shockey, Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson and Jared Cook.
That is certainly not the case this season.
Adam Trautman has just nine catches for 100 yards and has struggled across the board. Juwan Johnson has just seven catches for 72 yards, though he has three touchdown catches.
The absence of Michael Thomas is glaring this season, as compared to last year when the Saints had Emmanuel Sanders, who caught 61 passes for 726 yards and five touchdowns and Cook, who caught 37 passes for 504 yards and seven touchdowns.
There were a pair of well thrown deep balls that could have been caught in Seattle, hitting the hands of two different receivers. Winston’s productivity numbers could have and perhaps should have been better than the final worksheet in the game.
Winston has clearly been coached up to not take huge chances and to avoid big mistakes, at all cost.
The end result is that Winston has taken 11 sacks, a few attributable to receivers not getting open and a few where he simply held the ball a bit too long.
Drew Brees was sacked 13 times total last season in 12 games.
Any comparison to Brees is unfair to Winston.
Brees retired as one of the best quarterbacks, one of the best players in NFL history.
In his final season in the NFL, playing with huge injuries, Brees still completed 70.5 percent of his passes.
Brees had 15 seasons with the same head coach, with the same offense.
Winston has a career completion rate of 61.2 percent.
The two are totally different players.
The trick for Winston is to refine his game, fit into a system.
The trick for Payton and Pete Carmichael is to refine their system, to fit Winston unique skills into a system.
The twain, as the saying goes, has not met yet but there is notable progress.
Under any circumstances, winning a road game, in the rain, in the wind, at a stadium which is the loudest in the NFL, is a good win.
While Winston and the offense did not put up the points needed to win most NFL games, the 13 points were enough Monday night.
The Saints are running the ball more than any team in the NFL, based on the run/pass percentage comparison and that is what we advocated all offseason.
It is what the Saints should do and it is a wise strategy which is working.
Run the ball with a brilliant running back behind a good to very good offensive line, when healthy, and take the pressure off of a questionable receiving corps and a quarterback in the midst of rehabilitating his on-field image to become the player he is capable of being without putting games on his shoulders.
Now comes the biggest test of all as the Saints host the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Caesars Superdome.
The Saints won both regular season matchups a year ago before crashing and burning at home against the Bucs in the playoffs.
Winston crashed and burned with the Buccaneers after five seasons, following his selection as the top draft pick overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
In five seasons, Winston played in 72 games and Tampa Bay went 28-42 in those games. Winston’s 121 touchdown passes were offset by 88 interceptions and lost 19 fumbles.
So far with New Orleans, those turnovers have virtually disappeared.
Will we get a more accurate depiction of who Winston is by the end of this season?
We will get a better picture but perhaps not the total picture.
Will it be enough for Winston to merit a new contract and an extended stay as the starter in New Orleans?
At this point in time, the Saints are squarely in the playoff mix and in the mix for the NFC South title, a game behind Tampa Bay.
At this point in time, it is premature to pass judgment on Winston.
Time and experience will prove to be very revealing. For now, Winston and the New Orleans offense are a work in progress and the key word is progress, making more of it weekly.
To beat Tampa Bay, it will take a large leap in that department.
Unfortunately for Winston, the inevitable comparisons to Brees, the man whom he replaced in New Orleans, will not go away.
Unfortunately for Winston, the inevitable comparisons to Brady, the man who succeeded him in Tampa Bay, will not go away.
Virtually anything and everything, short of winning a Super Bowl, will find Winston paling in comparison to both NFL greats.
Winston needs to block out the noise, focus on the task at hand and continue to learn and discern to become a better player, the player he is capable of being.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…