Charting Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, Week 4

No one expected Jameis Winston to take over as Bucs quarterback and play like Peyton Manning in his prime, but fans did hope he'd take better care of the football than Josh McCown did last season. So far, he has not. [Times wires]
No one expected Jameis Winston to take over as Bucs quarterback and play like Peyton Manning in his prime, but fans did hope he'd take better care of the football than Josh McCown did last season. So far, he has not. [Times wires]
Published Oct. 7, 2015

There were times last season where Josh McCown did such inexplicable things with the football that you wondered whether the Bucs might be better off with Sia at quarterback.

Sure, she might have lacked the vision — what with the lace blindfold and all — but when it came to protecting the football, you could have been confident that she'd hold on for dear life.

No quarterback who threw the ball as often as McCown (327 times) had it intercepted as often (4.3 percent). When the Bucs drafted Jameis Winston first overall, many believed that he, even as a rookie, would be an instant upgrade over McCown.

Through the first four games of this season (small sample size alert!), that has not been the case. McCown, now the starter for the slightly more orange Cleveland Browns, has posted a better passer rating (98.4 vs. 71.2) and Total Quarterback Rating (70.0 vs. 35.6).

And after Winston's four-interception game against the Carolina Panthers, he's now throwing picks at a higher rate (5.3 percent) than the disaster he replaced. As Winston and head coach Lovie Smith will tell you, the Bucs can't afford errors of that frequency. Winston isn't Tim Tebow; he doesn't have angels carrying his passes through the air and dropping them like feathers into the hands of a receiver.

USA Today editor and Most Hated Blogger in America Chris Chase found that 22 rookies have thrown four picks in a game since 2000. The best among them: Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Jake Delhomme and Alex Smith. The dropoff after that is frightening enough to induce flashbacks to the beginning of the Josh Freeman era.

Despite his early season struggles, Winston has shown a thick skin.

"You bounce back. You don't think bad about yourself. You can't get down," he said after the 37-23 loss to the Panthers.

"I will never lose my confidence."

Smith delivered this reminder:

"He's a young quarterback. This happens with young quarterbacks. They don't play the way you want them to, the way they should, the way they're capable of playing."

Passing charts

One of Winston's passes was intercepted when Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short tipped it at the line. On another pick, linebacker Thomas Davis read Winston's eyes and jumped in his throwing lane. The other two interceptions were the result of inaccuracy.

Take Josh Norman's first interception, which I broke down in Monday's Turning Point.

Norman initially dropped back like a cornerback playing Cover 3 technique, but he was responsible for the flat and jumped the throw to tight end Brandon Myers. Because Winston's pass was behind Myers instead of toward the sideline, Norman was able to pick it off cleanly and take it back untouched for the touchdown.

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Inaccuracy bit Winston again on Norman's second interception when he threw behind Vincent Jackson.

On the third-and-8 play, the Panthers rushed five defenders, including safety Roman Harper, who went unblocked. Myers was Winston's safety outlet and was wide open. What you didn't see on the broadcast was Davis slip as he went to cover Myers. Winston could have checked down to Myers, who likely would have reached the 41-yard line to secure the first down. Even so, better placement on the throw to Jackson keeps the drive alive.

This is not a matter of a throw here and there. Through four weeks, Winston's 64.5 accuracy percentage — a Pro Football Focus statistic that accounts for drops, throw aways, spikes, batted passes and passes when the quarterback was hit while attempting to throw — is the second-lowest in the NFL, a point and a half better than Andrew Luck.

The right side of the field outside the numbers, which is where Winston threw the first interception to Norman and later the interception to Davis, has been a trouble spot for the rookie. On throws beyond the line of scrimmage and under 20 yards deep, he has completed just 10 of 25 passes for 60 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

As for Marcus Mariota ... well, Mariota didn't play Sunday because the Tennessee Titans were on a bye, but you probably didn't notice because you only heard Patriots fans complaining about the conspiracy that was the early week off.

While there are a number of factors the NFL considers when it constructs the schedule — as the Sporting News and Pats Pulpit explained well recently — a bye this early in a season is like stopping for water one kilometer into a 5K. So, the NFL can tinker with the extra point and obliterate kickers' psyches, but it can't figure out a way to not schedule early season byes?

Although the timing of a bye week has minimal influence on a team's success — winning teams keep winning and losing teams keep losing, the Boston Globe concluded — here's a modest proposal: No byes before Week 6. Or consider adding a second bye week, as the league did in 1993, and eliminate the off week between conference championships and the Super Bowl. Then again, when would we talk about deflated footballs?

Because of the Titans' bye, this week's Mariota pass charts bear a striking resemblance to last week's.

Quarterback rating

Winston's 71.2 passer rating most resembles Mark Sanchez through his first four games, according to our database of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1980.

Total Quarterback Rating (QBR)

ESPN's QBR rates quarterbacks on a 0-100 scale. Mariota (50.6) ranks 24th, followed by Stafford (50.3). The quality of play falls significantly from there, with Winston (35.6) ranking among disappointments Colin Kaepernick (38.6), Joe Flacco (35.3), Sam Bradford (32.3) and Ryan Tannehill (32.1).

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. Throughout the season, the formula adjusts for strength of opponent, which is why Mariota's rating dropped even though the Titans didn't play. Out of 34 ranked quarterbacks, Mariota (0.8 percent) is 17th and Winston (minus-37.3 percent) is 33rd.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.