The Bucs' game plan against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday was simple: Don't turn the ball over.
For the first time since Nov. 24, 2013 (a span of 25 games), they succeeded. And for the first time since Dec. 8, 2013, they won a game at home, ending a streak of 11 consecutive losses at Raymond James Stadium.
Instead of relying on the arm of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston — who threw four interceptions against the Carolina Panthers in a 37-23 loss the week before — the Bucs relied on the legs of Doug Martin and Charles Sims. The duo ransacked the Jaguars for 174 rushing yards and 294 total yards from scrimmage. Martin scored all three of the offense's touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).
"This was just smash-mouth football," Winston said after the 38-31 victory. "We lined up in two-tight end formations, two-running back formations and pounded that football."
The Bucs' answer to a defense that had allowed just 83 rushing yards a game before Sunday? More big bodies. Reserve tight end Cameron Brate was on the field for a season-high 37 snaps (the Bucs ran 67 plays). Fullback Javorskie Lane was on the field for 24, also a season-high.
The Bucs also used tackle Reid Fragel as an extra lineman on 28 snaps — 42 percent of their snaps! — and averaged about 4.5 yards on those plays, all but seven of which were runs.
Given the success of the ground game, Winston wasn't called on to do much and attempted a season-low 19 passes, many of which were screens and throws in the flat. No doubt the Bucs took a page out of the playbooks of recent Jaguars opponents and attacked their soft pass coverage underneath. Winston threw nine passes under 10 yards, completing eight for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Passes of less than 10 yards vs. Jaguars defense
|Cam Newton, Panthers||14/15||90||0/0|
|Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins||20/21||137||1/0|
|Tom Brady, Patriots||28/33||232||2/0|
|Matt Hasselbeck, Colts||23/30||157||1/0|
|Jameis Winston, Bucs||8/9||130||1/0|
|Source: Pro Football Focus|
Most important, for the first time all season, Winston didn't throw an interception or lose a fumble — though he came dangerously close in the second quarter when he attempted to throw during a sack. The Bucs, trailing 7-3 at the time, caught a break when officials reviewed the play and saw that he was down by contact before the ball came loose.
While Winston could comfortably take a knee at the end of the Bucs game, Marcus Mariota was on his back after a hit from Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in the closing moments of a 14-13 Titans loss.
Just before the 331-pound lineman knocked him down, Mariota heaved a pass more than 25 yards down the field to Kendall Wright. It was the third and final time he attempted a pass of 20 or more yards. The other two fell incomplete; this one, cornerback Stephon Gilmore picked off.
As you can see from the charts below, Mariota's troubles with deep passes extend beyond the game against the Bills, who were the first team this season to not allow him to throw a touchdown pass. On attempts beyond 15 yards, he has completed seven of 29 and thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Winston's 77.6 passer rating through five weeks most resembles Indianapolis' Andrew Luck — also drafted No. 1 overall — at the same point in his career, according to our database of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980. Mariota (99.7) mirrors the quarterback drafted immediately after Luck in 2012 — Washington's Robert Griffin III (101).
Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)
ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. Mariota (53.1) ranks 21st, behind Cam Newton (53.5) but ahead of Peyton Manning (51.7). Turnover-free in Week 5, Winston (35.6) ranks 27th, between Matthew Stafford (47.2) and Nick Foles (35.0), quarterbacks who threw a combined seven interceptions Sunday.
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. For the first time this season, Mariota's DVOA has fallen below replacement level (minus-0.8 percent). Though Winston's minus-24.4 percent DVOA still trails Mariota, it's an improvement of about 13 percentage points over last week and is also a new high. Mariota ranks 18th out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks, and Winston ranks 33rd.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at email@example.com. Follow @tometrics.