Jameis Winston was the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Trevor Siemian was the 250th selection, and the last of seven quarterbacks taken that year. The two second-year passers may have different draft pedigrees, but as they prepare to take their respective teams into battle against each other on Sunday they have the same primary task: Take care of the football.
Winston has started all 19 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' games since his arrival and looks like an NFL star in the making. He's tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes through three games and is a good bet to break all of the franchise's passing records. But he has also been picked off six times, and while some of them clearly weren't his fault Winston is still the key figure when it comes to fixing the Buccaneers' ungainly turnover ratio.
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"Every turnover has its own story," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "They're all different. We've got to protect the football. I'm not pointing out anything that's unusual here, but it starts with the quarterback. The quarterback touches the ball every play, so the quarterback's got to make great decisions with the football. We work on ball-leverage stuff every single day. Turnovers is the number-one statistic in football; we're not taking it away enough and we're definitely turning it over too much. We're going to keep harping on that until we get it fixed."
Siemian won the Broncos job to start his second season after future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler bolted to Houston in free agency. The Broncos still boast the playmaking defense that led them to victory in Super Bowl 50 last February, but Siemian's surprisingly composed performance has been critical in the team's 3-0 start to 2016. He has been intercepted three times but he's completing 67% of his passes and has a stellar 95.9 passer rating so far.
"They're a tremendous football team, very well-coached by Gary Kubiak and his staff," said Koetter. "They have one of the best defenses in the league with several big-name players. On offense, they have really good play-makers on the outside and their quarterback doesn't turn the ball over. Their offense doesn't get them in trouble."
The Buccaneers split their first two games despite an overall turnover margin of negative-six. They missed a chance to go 2-1 last Sunday in the home opener against Los Angeles, falling 37-32 in a game that literally came down to the last play. Winston was tackled at the Rams' five-yard line while scrambling to seal the visitors' victory, but it might not have come down to such a coin-flip play if not for a pair of giveaways on offense.
"At one point in the first half of the game, we were up two-to-nothing in turnovers, and unfortunately it ended up as an even game," said Koetter, noting that two takeaways had led to a 20-10 second-quarter lead for the Bucs. "Even games are going to be 50-50, and that's exactly what happened. It was 50-50 at the end. If we stay on the plus side, we're going to increase our chances of winning."
The Buccaneers hope to increase their chances of playing in January by evening their record at 2-2 on Sunday. They'll have to end Denver's eight-game winning streak – a run that started last December and straddled the Super Bowl – in order to do it, but that just makes the task more interesting.
"It's a new challenge every week, and certainly a new challenge this week with the Broncos, the defending Super Bowl champs," said Koetter. "A lot of people are saying they're a better team than they were a year ago. Huge challenge, and with a huge challenge comes a huge opportunity."
Tampa Bay will still be without several key starters in Week Four. Defensive end Robert Ayers, running back Doug Martin and tight end Luke Stocker will all miss a second straight game due to injury, as will reserve wide receiver Cecil Shorts. Starting center Joe Hawley, who missed practice time during the week due to an ankle sprain, has been cleared to play.
The Broncos are without three starters due to injury: linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tackle Donald Stephenson and tight end Virgil Green. Second-year player Shane Ray started for Ware last week against Cincinnati and recorded three sacks. Another second-year player, Ty Sambrailo, will step in for Stephenson at right tackle while veteran John Phillips will replace Green in the lineup. The Broncos other four inactives are quarterback Austin Davis, safety Shiloh Keo, CB Lorenzo Doss and G Connor McGovern.
The Buccaneers take on the Broncos in Week Four on Sunday afternoon, with kickoff scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium. The game will be broadcast locally by CBS and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.