A quick look at Jameis Winston and the Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during  looks to throw against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during looks to throw against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

If Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston had cut down his turnovers this season, the Buccaneers likely would be getting ready for the playoffs.

The Bucs (7-8) are 3-5 in one-score games as Winston’s interceptions continue to plague the team. The Bucs had a chance to beat Houston, but the last-ditch drive ended in another interception. It was Winston’s NFL-leading 28th interception of the season as the Bucs’ four-game winning streak was snapped in the 23-20 loss to the Texans on Saturday.

“For us, the biggest thing is to quit turning the ball over,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday. “We had a close game last week with five turnovers. Usually, you’ll get the hell beat out of you. We had a chance to win it at the end. If we eliminate the turnovers, we should have had the lead.”

Winston has completed 367 of 602 passes for a league-leading 4,908 yards and a second-best 31 touchdowns, but his passer rating of 84.6 ranks 50th in the NFL. His 28 interceptions thrown are 10 more than anyone else in the league has thrown.

Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have been more than patient with Winston and his propensity to throw interceptions.

“I continue to work with him,” Arians said. “He just, at times, has to make a little bit better decisions.”

The Bucs may be without their top two receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who torched the Falcons for seven catches, 184 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-22 victory Nov. 24.

Evans was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Godwin has a hamstring injury and was inactive last week against the Texans.

“Breshad (Perriman) has really stepped up the last couple of weeks with a couple of 100-yard ballgames,” Arians said. “Then (Justin) Watson has improved a bunch, and he’s doing his thing. We have some other young guys that we are just trying to get in the mix.”

Perriman, once a first-round pick by Baltimore, is from Lithonia.

In the previous meeting, the Bucs' defensive front dominated the Falcons' offensive line. The Bucs had six sacks and 13 quarterback hits and held the Falcons to 57 yards rushing.

“We’re doing a great job of stopping the run and getting teams one dimensional,” Arians said. “Then we’re able to pass rush. Getting Jason Pierre-Paul back helped a bunch. Then our secondary is kind of growing up.”

Rookie linebacker Devin White tormented the Falcons. He had eight tackles, two sacks, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits.

“He had that early knee injury, but right now he’s playing as well as he has all season,” Arians said. “A lot of confidence. He had the touchdown a couple of weeks ago. He picked up another fumble this past week. He’s playing, very, very well.”

Linebacker Shaquil Barrett has 16.5 sacks, which is tied for the team’s single-season sack mark, a record set by defensive tackle Warren Sapp in 2000. Barrett had a sack and five quarterback hits against the Falcons.

“We are trying to get that record,” Arians said. “He needs one more to break the record of Warren Sapp.”

The Falcons were without running back Devonta Freeman in the previous meeting.

“I think they are a little healthier,” Arians said. “(Freeman) is a big, big part of their offense. Julio (Jones) got hurt in our ballgame. He looks like he’s back to full speed. Defensively, they were just learning the new stuff. They are playing really well defensively, right now.”

Also, right guard Chris Lindstrom and left guard Wes Schweitzer will start. In the previous meeting, Jamon Brown and James Carpenter were the guards.

In addition to the speed of White and Barrett, the Falcons’ interior lineman have to deal with defensive tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh.

“One of the things that jumps out is their excellent run defense, big and square,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “They've been able to affect the quarterback.”

The Bucs give up 72.9 yards rushing per game, which leads the league.

“You still have to run it, and you still have to find ways to protect,” Quinn said. “Those to me are at the front of our list as the topics ... the run game, the play-action passes that go with it because they’re allowing the fewest in the league in the run game. …What you don’t want to do with a team that knows how to rush and blitz is to let them make you one-dimensional.”


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