Friday, May 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Charting Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, Week 9: A dead heat

For every Drew Bledsoe, there's a Rick Mirer. For every Peyton Manning, there's a Ryan Leaf. For every Donovan McNabb, there's a Tim Couch.

Half a season isn't enough to tell us whether Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota — the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks in this year's NFL draft — will become a franchise quarterback like Bledsoe, Manning or McNabb. But both of their pro careers are off to encouraging starts even though they were thrust into a huddle almost immediately after hearing commissioner Roger Goodell announce their names.

As expected, they've made plenty of mistakes, too. They've forced throws. They've missed open receivers. Defenses have baited them into bad decisions.

They've also shown resilience. After throwing four interceptions in a 37-23 loss at home to the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, Winston stressed that he would bounce back.

"I will never lose my confidence," he said.

He hasn't thrown an interception since. That's more than a month without a pick. He, Kansas City's Alex Smith and Indianapolis' Matt Hasselbeck (who will replace the injured Andrew Luck, out two to six weeks because of a lacerated kidney) are the only quarterbacks in the NFL right now who haven't thrown an interception in their past four games (minimum 10 attempts).

And after the Falcons rallied from a 20-3 deficit in Week 8, Winston led the Bucs in overtime on a 15-play, 68-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal. His comeback try Sunday against the New York Giants, however, fell short when the Bucs had trouble holding onto the football, dropping at least seven passes and losing two fumbles.

As for Mariota, in his first game back since suffering a knee sprain Oct. 18 against the Miami Dolphins, he rallied the Tennessee Titans on Sunday past the New Orleans Saints in overtime. On the game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter and the game-winning touchdown drive in overtime, he was 11 of 11 for 111 yards. In the 34-28 win, Mariota threw four total touchdowns, becoming the third rookie to do so more than once in a season. He is the only rookie in NFL history to have at least two games of four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

If their development continues and they can escape injury, Winston and Mariota will remain in the thick of the race for rookie of the year. After that, who knows? But wouldn't it be something if both wind up having great careers?

Passing charts

Mike Evans' six drops were costly, as was Doug Martin's third-quarter drop on a wheel route down the right sideline, but Winston was uneven against the Giants. At times, he was precise, and at other times, his passes sailed. He was fortunate Giants' defenders didn't intercept him on at least two occasions, both in the end zone. One pass was intended for Doug Martin on the left side of the end zone in the first quarter; the other was intended for Donteea Dye on the right side with about a minute remaining in the second quarter. The Bucs settled for field goals each time.

On the bright side, Bucs fans witnessed Super Jameis.

About half of Mariota's passes traveled 5 yards or less. Only two fell incomplete. He was extremely lucky one of his deep passes wasn't intercepted. Thanks to two Saints' defenders running into each other, the pass bounced off their hands and right to tight end Delanie Walker, who had NO IDEA where the ball was. He then shook off their tackles and took it all the way. While it was a terrible throw under pressure, it ended the Titans' streak of 22 straight offensive drives without a touchdown.

Here's how Winston and Mariota compare in their past four games.

Quarterback rating

Mariota's 135.7 passer rating was his highest since his perfect 158.3 rating against the Bucs in Week 1 and double his rating against the Dolphins, his last start. Winston's rating fell slightly for the second straight week, from 85.6 to 84.0. In the Tampa Bay Times' database of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980, Mariota's 101.8 overall rating through nine weeks ranks fourth, just a couple of points behind Dan Marino (103.9). Winston is eighth, between Matt Ryan (85.4) and Jim Kelly (83.6).

Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)

ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. After Week 1, 90 points separated Mariota and Winston. Halfway through the season, a point separates them. Mariota's 94.8 QBR in Week 9 was second-best in the NFL (Tyrod Taylor, 98.0). Winston, who ranked in the top 10 two straight weeks, earned a 64.9 QBR against the Giants, which was only good enough for 17th.

Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)

Football Outsiders' DVOA measures a quarterback's value on a per play basis relative to the league average. The formula factors in down, distance and situation. Throughout the season, the formula also adjusts for strength of opponent, which QBR does not do. A positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player.

Like his passer rating, Mariota's DVOA had decreased every week since the season opener. His performance against the Saints halted the slide and lifted his DVOA from minus-20.3 percent to minus-6.8 percent, which ranks 21st out of 32 quarterbacks. After three straight games of increases, Winston's DVOA fell from minus-2.6 percent to minus-4.6 percent, which ranks 17th, just ahead of Josh McCown, Blake Bortles and Russell Wilson. Since Winston threw four interceptions in the Week 4 loss to the Carolina Panthers, his DVOA has increased more than 33 percentage points.

Thomas Bassinger can be reached at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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