Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Charting Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, Week 6: 'Back to the Future' edition

About 30 years ago, Steve Young, the No. 1 pick of the 1984 NFL supplemental draft of USFL and CFL players, started his first game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He guided the 1-10 Bucs to a 19-16 overtime win over the Detroit Lions but then lost 16 of his next 18 starts, throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes.

With the Bucs in position to draft Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde in 1987, they traded Young to San Francisco, where over the next 13 years, he won 91 regular season games — and lost only 33 — and led the 49ers to the playoffs seven straight seasons. The Bucs, meanwhile, have reached the playoffs just seven times total since they traded Young, who went on to celebrate a Super Bowl championship (1994), earn two MVPs (1992 and 1994) and join the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2005).

On this Back to the Future Day, it sure would be nice to fire up the DeLorean and travel back to 1985, replace the Bucs' miserly ownership and put some semblance of an offensive line in front of Young. But, alas, we continue to wait for such a vehicle — as well as hoverboards, self-lacing shoes and quarterback draft picks who regularly take the Bucs to the playoffs.

The Young trade continues to haunt this franchise. The Bucs have used a first-round pick, or traded a first-round pick, to acquire a quarterback five times since. Jameis Winston is the latest bet, but each decision before him — Testaverde, Chris Chandler, Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman — has bitten the Bucs worse than the shark display at the Holomax Theater.

Without a Grays Sports Almanac to tell us whether the Bucs made the right call in choosing Winston over Marcus Mariota, we're left to overanalyze the present, which is beginning to favor Winston. His pick-six interception and Mariota's four touchdown passes in the Titans' 42-14 waxing of the Bucs in the season opener are now distant memories. In the quarterbacks' four games since, each has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions. Most important, the Titans have gone 0-4, and the Bucs have gone 2-2. If the reaction then to the rout seemed as absurd as a Jaws 19 sequel, it seems spectacularly foolish six weeks into the NFL season.

While Winston and the Bucs were idle Sunday, the Titans turned in their worst performance of the season in a 38-10 loss to the Dolphins, who absolutely mauled Mariota, sacking him five times, intercepting him twice and forcing two fumbles. To make matters worse for Tennessee, Mariota sprained his MCL early in the second quarter when defensive end Olivier Vernon tackled him at his knees. Though Mariota stayed in the game after the shot, which drew a roughing-the-passer penalty, his status for Week 7 is uncertain.

When asked after the game about the hit, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt did not hide his dismay.

The downfield passing attack, or lack thereof, continues to be a major weakness for the Titans. The offensive line isn't giving Mariota much time — only Seattle's Russell Wilson and Kansas City's Alex Smith have been sacked more often — but when he does throw deep (20 or more yards), he's not hitting his targets. Against the Dolphins, Mariota attempted four such passes, one of which was an underthrown ball to tight end Anthony Fasano that cornerback Brent Grimes picked off. Overall this season, he has completed just three of 21 deep passes and thrown three interceptions.

This, in turn, creates problems for the Titans in their shorter range game. Without a deep threat, defensive backs will feast on underneath throws, as safety Reshad Jones did in the third quarter when he jumped tight end Delanie Walker's route to come up with a pick-six.

The Titans actually beat Jones with the same play way back in the first quarter.

And for comparison, here are Winston's passes against Jacksonville and also over his past four games:

Quarterback rating

Thanks to his perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the season opener, Mariota (93.2) maintains a lead over Winston (77.6). Through six weeks, Mariota is most similar to Washington's Robert Griffin III (100.5) and Atlanta's Michael Vick (87.7) at the same point in their careers, according to our database of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980. Winston is most similar to Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich (78.0) and Seattle's Rick Mirer (76.9).

Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)

ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. After one week, Mariota was the NFL leader (95.7) while Winston was last (6.7). The gap has closed significantly, and the rookies are now neck and neck. They're hardly taking the league by storm, however, as their QBRs rank among the league's bottom 25 percent.

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. Mariota's DVOA slipped below replacement level last week and fell further this week (minus-18.6 percent) after his poor showing against the Dolphins. A strong performance against Washington this week might be enough to propel Winston (minus-24.5 percent) past Mariota for the first time this season.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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