Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota, Week 4: Sophomores slump because of turnovers

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Rookies Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott are outplaying Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. You saw that coming, right?

We're only a quarter of the way through the 2016 season, but last season's first two draft picks have been awful. Most troubling is both have been more prone to turnovers than they were as rookies. Winston has 10 (eight interceptions and two fumbles lost), and Mariota has seven (five interceptions and two fumbles lost).

It's the simplest equation in football: You lose the football, you lose the game. The Bucs and Titans, who have a combined turnover differential of minus-13 this season, are off to 1-3 starts.

Those who have pledged allegiance to Winston and Mariota point to external factors. The receivers. The offensive line. The referees. The coaches. The weather.

The stat sheet doesn't care about such nuance. In this space, however, we can dive deeper. Should we be concerned about Winston's and Mariota's turnover rates? The answer is yes.

Let's go turnover by turnover, starting with Winston.

Jameis Winston

2016 statistics: 103 of 177, 58.2 completion percentage, 1,108 yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions

OutcomeOpponentBreakdown
Interception 1FalconsWinston thought Vincent Jackson was breaking in, but Jackson broke out, and the pass went right to Desmond Trufant. A miscommunication, but it's on the quarterback to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Interception 2CardinalsWinston gambled against one of the league's best defensive backs and threw a 50-50 deep ball to Mike Evans. Patrick Peterson played the ball better and won. You could argue that Evans slowed down or should have fought for the ball more.
Interception 3CardinalsWinston tried to hit Jackson as he was coming out of his break, but Jackson couldn't separate from cornerback Marcus Cooper. Winston's throw was slightly behind Jackson.
Fumble 1CardinalsAs Winston prepared to throw, running Charles Sims knocked the ball out of his hand. Based on Winston's short dropback, the play design called for a quick pass, not a run fake. This one's on Sims.
Interception 4CardinalsWinston tried to hit Sims in the flat, but a defensive lineman deflected the ball. It bounced off Sims' hands and right to Cooper, who returned it 60 yards for the touchdown. No running back enjoys a jump ball in traffic, but Sims should have come down with it.
Interception 5CardinalsDown 33 points with nine seconds left, Winston heaved a desperation pass. Toss this one from consideration. Pretend it never happened. It's not representative of Winston's play in meaningful game situations.
Interception 6RamsAgainst Los Angeles' Cover 2 defense, Winston threw a pass to Sims in the left flat, cornerback Trumaine Johnson's zone. As Sims bobbled the ball, Johnson dropped a shoulder into the running back. Former Bucs safety Mark Barron came up with the loose ball. Considering the coverage and Johnson's proximity to Sims, perhaps Winston should have looked elsewhere. Still, Sims needs to be more reliable.
Fumble 2RamsDefensive end Robert Quinn beat tackle Donovan Smith around the left edge and knocked the ball out of Winston's hand as he began to throw. Despite the blown block, Winston should have gotten the ball out more quickly.
Interception 7BroncosWinston threw a pass just slightly ahead of Adam Humphries as he crossed over the middle. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who was covering Vincent Jackson, read the play and intercepted the pass.
Interception 8BroncosWinston tried to force a pass to Evans through Denver's zone coverage. Talib undercut Evans' curl route for his second interception of the game.

Analysis: After we throw out the late interception against the Cardinals, there are three turnovers that we can reasonably suggest were not Winston's fault. The others are the result of poor decisions or inaccuracy.

While Winston has been unlucky that deflections have bounced the opponents' way, he also has been lucky that defenders have dropped passes. That good fortune extends back to last season, when he had only 15 interceptions. I say "only" because that number should have been 22, according to Football Outsiders' research on dropped interceptions.

In other words, it's possible that last season's 2.8 percent interception rate was a mirage and that this season's 4.5 percent rate is closer to reality. At the very least, Winston's ability to take care of the football is a legitimate concern, just as it was when he left Florida State for the NFL.

Dopamine hit:

Marcus Mariota

2016 statistics: 80 of 136, 58.8 completion percentage, 925 yards, four touchdowns, five interceptions

OutcomeOpponentBreakdown
Interception 1VikingsUnder pressure, Mariota lobbed a pass to Harry Douglas at the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Eric Kendricks jumped in front and took it 77 yards the other way.
Fumble 1VikingsOn a zone read play, Mariota lost the ball on a bad exchange with new running back DeMarco Murray. A costly but easily correctable mistake.
Interception 2LionsIn a rare deep pass attempt, Mariota rolled to the right and looked for Rishard Matthews down the sideline. Unfortunately for Mariota, the safety rolled right with him and picked off the pass in front of Matthews. The pass was slightly underthrown, but the play design wasn't particularly good, either.
Fumble 2RaidersOn third and 13 deep in Tennessee territory, the Raiders blitzed. Mariota took off, but instead of sliding, he tried for the first down. Linebacker Bruce Irvin stripped Mariota of the ball, and Oakland recovered.
Interception 3RaidersOn a deep in route, Matthews could not separate from safety Reggie Nelson. Mariota threw the ball anyway, and Nelson beat Matthews to the spot.
Interception 4RaidersMatthews gained a step on cornerback Sean Smith on a slant over the middle, but Mariota's throw was behind his receiver.
Interception 5TexansMariota abandoned the pocket and tried to throw on the run to tight end Delanie Walker. The pass, well out of Walker's reach, hit safety Quintin Demps right in the numbers.

Analysis: Mariota's miscues aren't products of bad luck. He has been an inaccurate passer all season, especially when the opponent blitzes. Against the blitz, he has completed just 47.2 percent of his passes (the league average is 58.6 percent).

Mariota's deep ball remains a weakness as well. On passes of 20 or more yards down the field, he has completed 4 of 13 and thrown one touchdown and one interception. The vast majority of his passes are inside 10 yards and between the hashes and numbers.

He hasn't thrown as many interceptions as Winston, but he hasn't thrown a bazillion passes like Winston, either. He has, however, thrown an interception on 3.7 percent of his passes, which is up from last season (2.7 percent) and above the league average (2.4 percent).

Dopamine hit:

The metrics

Passer rating: Out of 32 quarterbacks who qualify, Winston and Mariota are among the bottom four in passer rating, which takes into account attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. At 73.9, Mariota has the edge over Winston, whose 72.9 rating is only better than Ryan Fitzpatrick's 57.6.

Total Quarterback Rating (QBR): ESPN's rating considers situational factors as well as a quarterback's production as a runner. The metric, which rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale, favors Winston by a significant margin. His 65.5 QBR ranks 11th in the league, while Mariota's 34.3 ranks last.

Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA): Football Outsiders' metric is calculated by comparing a player's success on each play to the league average. It considers factors such as down, distance, field position, score and opponent, but the figures below do not reflect a quarterback's value as a runner. A positive percentage indicates an above-average player and a negative percentage indicates a below-average player. Mariota's value ranks 23rd out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks, while Winston's ranks 27th.

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

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