As the NFL season nears the quarter-way point, trends are beginning to emerge.
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota looked like extremely different quarterbacks two-and-a-half weeks ago, but the gap has narrowed. Each has had moments where he has shown great promise, and each has had moments where he has read the defense as poorly as Michael Vick.
Case in point: In Sunday's 19-9 loss to the Texans, Winston tried to thread a pass through double coverage, but safety Quintin Demps read Mike Evans' route and picked it off. Meanwhile, against the Colts, Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season. He was unlucky on the first one — the result of a defender knocking the ball out of tight end Delanie Walker's arms — but on the second one, he stared down his receiver.
Pick a statistic, though — passing yards, touchdowns, quarterback rating — and you'll find that Mariota maintains an edge over Winston. As we did after the first two games, we've charted the quarterbacks' passes and also plotted their performances as measured by conventional quarterback rating, ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating and Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.
In the Week 3 chart, that's a lot of dots with "13" in the middle — 17, to be exact. However many targets Evans missed over the first two weeks of the season as he recovered from a hamstring injury, he probably saw them Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, he caught only seven for 101 yards. He dropped four others — matching his 2014 total — including a 17-yard pass with about a minute left in the first half that at the very least would have put the Bucs in field-goal range. The only time you'll see a higher drop rate is when Cookie Monster shoves a dozen snickerdoodles into his mouth at the same time.
"There were a couple of tough catches that I'm capable of making," said Evans, who saw three times as many throws as Winston's No. 2 target, Louis Murphy. "If I want to be the best, I've got to make those plays."
Pin some of the problems in the passing game on the lack of reps Winston and Evans have had together. In time, they'll find a rhythm.
Still, coach Lovie Smith wants the team to spread the ball around more.
"That is a lot to focus on one guy, yes," he said Monday. "We need to distribute."
In Tennessee, Mariota distributed the ball much more evenly, completing a pass to 10 Titans receivers. He threw two touchdown passes, one to Kendall Wright and the other to Dorial Green-Beckham, to bring his season total to eight, tying Mark Rypien's 1988 record for most touchdown passes in a quarterback's first three games. He's now on pace for 43.
As in his first two games, he excelled on throws inside 20 yards, completing 25 of 34 for 311 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. While Mariota completed two passes of 20 or more yards (his first this season), safety Dwight Lowery picked off one of his attempts — the throw in which he stared down Wright. Overall, he is 2-for-14 on such deep passes for a 14.3 completion percentage, a league low rate that he shares with Washington's Kirk Cousins.
For the second time this season, Winston completed fewer than half his passes, sending his passer rating back below 80. His current mark of 77.9 most resembles the Falcons' Matt Ryan through his first three games, according to our database of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980. After posting an 84.2 rating against the Colts, Mariota's overall mark slips to a still-strong 109.2.
Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)
ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. Mariota (50.6), the NFL leader after Week 1, falls from 11th to 20th. Winston (43.5), who was 20th last week, drops to 27th, between Nick Foles (44.7) and Drew Brees (41.1).
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)
Football Outsiders defines DVOA as a number that "represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations." Similar to baseball's Wins Above Replacement statistic, a positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player. Out of 32 ranked quarterbacks, Mariota (5.7 percent) is 11th and Winston (minus-28.1 percent) is 29th.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.