Why Jameis Winston needs to buy a butt pillow

When Bruce Arians wants to risk it, his quarterbacks end up on their biscuits.
The Bucs allowed 109 quarterback hits this season, fourth most. [Associated Press]
The Bucs allowed 109 quarterback hits this season, fourth most. [Associated Press]
Published January 11

TAMPA — Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer said Thursday that new coach Bruce Arians has a “clear vision and plan for getting our franchise back to playing winning football.”

Of course Arians has a plan. He has a quarter-century of NFL experience.

But as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan …”

“... until they get punched in the mouth.”

Know who can attest to that? Arians’ quarterbacks.

Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger — they all took a beating.

When Arians was coach of the Cardinals from 2013 through 2017, Arizona’s offensive line allowed 106 hits per season, the third-highest average in that span.

When he was the interim coach of the Colts in 2012, Indianapolis’ offensive line allowed 116 hits, second most.

When he was the offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s offensive line wasn’t as porous. From 2009 (the earliest season for which data is available) through 2011, it allowed 78 hits per season. Seems like a lot less, right? It was about league average — often enough that towel-twirling, Jerome Bettis jersey-wearing Steelers fans pleaded that he be fired.

In other words, when deep-ball devotee Arians wants to risk it, his quarterbacks are going to end up on their biscuits.

You’ve been warned, Jameis Winston. You might want to consider wearing a flak jacket and, no matter how silly it looks, a cushion for your posterior. You think Arians is going to feel sorry for you when you tell him you have a broken butt? Of course not. He’s going to tell you to get better at understanding your pass protection.

How do we know? Arians said so Thursday.

“The big thing is, know your protections,” he said. “I think every quarterback starts with the protection, not the route or coverage. They can always bring one more than you can block.”

Translation: Don’t like the hits? Be smarter. And rub some dirt on it.

That doesn’t mean Arians thinks the Bucs offensive line is good enough. By just about any measure, it’s not. From 2015 through 2018, Tampa Bay allowed 109 hits per season, second most. The rate of pressure it has allowed has increased three straight seasons, from 29.3 percent in 2015 to 32.8 percent in 2018, according to Sports Info Solutions.

“I think the offensive line, looking outside in, is an area that we need to work on,” he said. “Some guys can have talent but need to get better and get more consistent. So that’s one of the things I am really looking forward to over the next two to three weeks — honing in on each guy, what he does well and what he doesn’t and seeing what he needs to do for the future.”

It’s difficult to separate responsibility for hits and sacks allowed. Sometimes the offensive line is to blame. Sometimes the quarterback is to blame. Sometimes the coach’s scheme is to blame. As you know by know, Arians is an aggressive play-caller and, much like his predecessor here in Tampa, loves the long ball.

“My quarterback must always have in the very forefront of his mind, If I have the right matchup and the opportunity is there to take a shot at the deep ball, take it,” he wrote in his 2017 book, The Quarterback Whisperer. “I don’t care if it’s third and three; if our best receiver is in single coverage and he’s running a deep post route, thrown him the (darn) ball.”

Arians’ offense features tight ends more like receivers than blockers and employs a variety of empty back formations. The pattern in the numbers is undeniable: The hits his quarterbacks have absorbed are a byproduct of his high-risk, high-reward tendencies.

Even so, Arians’ point that “the big thing is, know your protections” is worth highlighting. That’s not a coach being stubborn. Football Outsiders research shows that pass protection is more dependent on the quarterback than people realize.

“Some quarterbacks have better instincts for the rush than others, and are thus better at getting out of trouble by moving around in the pocket or throwing the ball away,” the website says. “Others will hesitate, hold onto the ball too long, and lose yardage over and over.”

Bottom line: Know your protections, Jameis. Oh, and keep a butt pillow handy, just in case.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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