Which quarterback is Jameis Winston and which is Marcus Mariota?
Player A (past four games): 57.1 completion percentage (80/140); 1,002 passing yards; six touchdown passes; three interceptions
Player B (past four games): 61.5 completion percentage (83/135); 1,005 passing yards; seven touchdown passes; three interceptions
Commissioner Roger Goodell announced their names minutes apart at the NFL draft and here we are seven months later without a conclusive answer to the question so many asked, Winston or Mariota? It would be ridiculously premature to define either as a success or failure 11 games into their rookie seasons, but the debate over which one is — and will be — better is as open-ended as ever. Florida State and Oregon fans, they already know the answer. But the rest of us? We have no idea. And, really, how fun is that? (By the way, Player A is Winston and Player B is Mariota.)
While Winston had fun throwing five touchdown passes against a soft Eagles defense in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, the Colts weren't as welcoming when the Buccaneers got to Indianapolis, making the No. 1 overall pick look a lot less like an All-Pro and more like a rookie. His stat line in the 25-12 loss Sunday — 20 of 36 for 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception — resembled his average stat line before the Eagles game: 18 of 32 for 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Bucs' staggering offensive output against the Eagles turned heads, but it diverted attention from an area of concern — the offensive line. Granted, the unit didn't allow a sack in the 45-17 rout, but it did allow 11 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Pressures will stress decisionmaking and hurry throws and sooner or later will lead to sacks, and that's what happened against the Colts. Left tackle Donovan Smith, in particular, struggled in pass blocking as he allowed seven total pressures. Here's an example from the Bucs' first possession after the Colts scored a touchdown midway through the third quarter to take a 16-12 lead.
On this first-and-10 play from the Indianapolis 40-yard line, the Colts line up in their base defense of three down linemen and four linebackers. That's Trent Cole (58) lined up to Smith's (76) left. After the snap, Cole head-fakes inside and then slaps Smith's hands down. The chop neutralizes Smith and allows Cole to continue unabated toward Winston.
The play calls for Mike Evans to run straight to the end zone, so Winston needs time. Because of the pressure from Cole, he has to rush his pass. The result is an overthrow that's closer to the Colts safety than it is to Evans.
The Bucs actually used an extra offensive lineman, Kevin Pamphile, on the play, but he was lined up next to right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Pamphile played 15 snaps as a sixth lineman against the Eagles, and Winston had great success when he was on the field, completing all six of his passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. But against the Colts, Pamphile played only five snaps, his second-fewest since the bye week. When he was in the game, Winston completed one of three passes for 12 yards.
Two plays after the overthrow, Winston — with the usual five linemen in front — had more time and targeted Evans again deep. Evans had a step on cornerback Darius Butler but the pass — and a potential go-ahead touchdown — slipped through his arms. The second-year receiver has now dropped at least one pass in four of his past five games.
Winston failed to connect on all seven of his passes thrown 20 or more yards down the field (excluding passes out of bounds).
In Tennessee, Mariota nearly completed his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season. But a phantom defensive holding penalty and a David Carr 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 remaining lifted the Oakland Raiders to victory and handed the Titans their 11th straight home loss and ninth loss in 10 games.
Mariota threw three touchdown passes but also threw two interceptions, one of which was due to a coverage misidentification. Let's take a look.
Presnap, the Raiders give Mariota a single-high safety look. Kendall Wright, lined up in the slot, runs an out route. Harry Douglas, lined up out wide to the right, runs a vertical route, and Mariota anticipates that cornerback David Amerson is going to follow him.
But after the snap, the deep safety rolls to the right and the shallow safety backpedals to the left. It's actually Cover 2 (two safeties deep, zone coverage underneath), so Amerson lets Douglas pass and sits underneath.
"(I) just kind of lost track of the corner," Mariota said after the game. "Kendall (Wright) was kind of open by himself from the slot and the corner fell out for me to play. That's on me. I just didn't see it and it really cost our team points there."
Passing charts (Week 9-12)
Since he threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 8, Mariota's quarterback rating has declined three straight weeks. While he holds a 92.8-85.3 lead, the difference hasn't been this tight in a month.
Through 12 weeks, Mariota ranks fourth among quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980, trailing Robert Griffin III (104.6), Ben Roethlisberger (98.4) and Dan Marino (94.4); Winston ranks sixth.
Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)
ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. For the second time in three weeks, Winston (51.3, 23rd) and Mariota (34.2, 26th) failed to crack the top 20. Winston did, however, regain the overall lead. His season QBR of 59.9 ranks 18th, three spots ahead of Mariota.
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)
A week after crossing into positive territory, Winston has fallen back below average in terms of Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, which measures a quarterback's value on a per play basis relative to the league average. The formula factors in down, distance, situation and strength of opponent (QBR is not adjusted for strength of opponent). A positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player.
Winston's DVOA, which dropped from 3.4 percent to minus-0.5 percent, ranks 18th, between Cam Newton (0.0) and Matt Ryan (minus-2.7). Mariota's DVOA dropped as well, from minus-4.2 percent to minus-8.6 percent, and now ranks 23rd, ahead of Blake Bortles (minus-9.2) but behind Teddy Bridgewater (minus-7.9).
Thomas Bassinger can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @tometrics.