In Parts One and Two, we looked at the team’s use of certain routes over others and which receiver or receivers on the team ran them among the best in the league.
In Part Three, we will explore the other side of that coin: the quarterbacks. It’s important I include Football Outsiders’ disclaimer about the data:
It must be noted that the following data is still receiving DYAR and DVOA rather than passing. Since it is receiving, sacks obviously aren’t included, and interceptions are not penalized any more than other incomplete passes. The number of passes includes defensive pass interference penalties. Each table is sorted by descending DYAR.
We will cover the same twelve most-common routes: curl, out, dig, slant, drag, go/fly, WR screen, post, comeback, broken play, fade, and seam. Despite playing in several games for the injured Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick did not throw enough to qualify for this study, so the analysis will have to only focus on Winston.
As a reminder, DVOA is per-down value and DYAR is total value, and the league average DVOA will be in parenthesis.
Curl - (-0.6 percent)
Jameis Winston ranks eleventh here in total value and thirteenth in per-down value at 73 and 3.6 percent, respectively. He threw for 463 yards on 71 passes with a 64.8 percent catch rate (league avg. 71.1 percent). In what is sure to be a recurring theme, Winston’s 8.8 average target depth was the most in the league, with only the now-retired Carson Palmer’s 8.6 coming close.
Football Outsiders (FBO) added this:
We mentioned last year that the quarterbacks with the least YAC on curl routes were Dak Prescott (2.0), Eli Manning (1.7), and Jameis Winston (1.5). Well, fast-forward another season and the quarterbacks with the least YAC on curl routes in 2017 were Eli Manning (1.9), Dak Prescott, (1.8), and Jameis Winston (1.7).
Eli and Dak’s average target depths were 6.7 and 6.6, two full yards shorter than Winston’s.
In 2016 Winston finished 13th and 13th in total and per-play value.
Out - (-7.1 percent)
Winston finished third in DYAR with 125, and second in DVOA, performing 20.2 percent per-play better what an average player would have done given the location of the same passes. He threw 54 passes for 412 yards, at a 70.4 percent catch rate (league avg. 63.9 percent). His average target depth is 8.6 yards, which ranks ninth among the quarterbacks who threw the out, or quick out, the most. His 2.2 average YAC was just short of the league average 2.6 yards.
In 2016 Winston was 15th and 18th in total and per-play value so this is a route they improved on tremendously.
Dig - (7.6 percent)
A little bit surprisingly, Winston finished sixteenth in total value and 21st in per-play DVOA value at 4.7 percent. He had 39 passes for 286 yards with a 55.3 percent catch rate (league avg. 60.4). His 11.8 average target depth was the fifth-most. Since the per-play value here isn’t good and yet the total value is higher, the Bucs probably ran this too much.
The Bucs like to run iso digs, but perhaps they would benefit from packaging it with another route to help open up space. But perhaps their 2017 dig results shouldn’t be so surprising; in 2016 Winston was 19th and 25th in total and per-play value, so the improvement here is just marginal. FBO had this to say last season:
Jameis Winston (62) and Carson Palmer (57) led all quarterbacks in dig routes. They were also two of the three quarterbacks (Luck the other) to be knocked down at least 120 times last year. Sometimes that’s the price you pay for better offense.
In 2017 Winston’s 39 attempts were the fifth-most.
Slant - (7.2 percent)
Why don’t we see slants more often in the NFL? There were 1,327 slant attempts last year, barely half as many attempts as we saw on curls. Both throws had a similar aDOT, but the slant produced 5.2 YAC on average compared to 2.9 YAC for the curl. Imagine that, a receiver turning his back to the defense isn’t as effective as one who is running with forward momentum.
Winston finished 16th with 49 DYAR and 18th in DVOA at 8 percent. He threw 30 slants for 272 yards at a 60 percent clip (league avg. 61.9 percent). The average target depth was 7.8, and the league average was at 6.9. The slant is a quick-hitting play, but the 7.8 target depth was the fifth-deepest. The Bucs averaged 7.6 YAC and the league average was 5.2.
In 2016, Winston was 25th in both total and per-play value; the receiving DVOA was a negative 2.1 percent, meaning the offense improved by about 10 percent over last season.
All in all it seems like a play the Bucs could utilize more often.
Drag - (-9.6 percent)
The drag route produces the most YAC (5.8) on average among the five most common routes in the NFL, beating out the curl (2.9), out (2.6), dig (3.6), and slant (5.2).
Winston ranks tenth here in total value and second in per-play value at 35 percent, behind only Aaron Rodgers. Why the discrepancy between total and per-play? Winston only threw the drag nine times all season, totaling 80 yards, with a 66.7 percent catch rate. A 4.9 average target depth and 7.8 YAC were both higher than the league averages.
FBO didn’t hold back with the criticism:
Last year, we thought that the addition of DeSean Jackson could help on drag routes for Jameis Winston, who had a really good 2016 with these plays. As it turns out, Winston never targeted Jackson on a drag route and only threw nine total after having 28 in 2016. Jackson’s role is a bit up in the air in 2018 after the emergence of Chris Godwin, but our next route will present the case that Tampa Bay needs to rethink its strategy with its wide receivers.
In 2016 Winston was third in total value and second in per-play value with those 28 attempts. Jackson has in the past been the best drag route-runner in the entire league. It could be a huge play for the Bucs that can yield explosive yardage, especially in a connection between Winston and Jackson, two players who are great at running it. FBO said this after the 2016 season:
While everyone will expect the deep ball to come from Winston to Jackson in Tampa Bay, this is an area where Jackson could also help the Buccaneers. Winston ranked third in DYAR and second in DVOA on drag routes last year. Mike Evans had 60 of the 66 DYAR, but has real help now.
And yet, the staff didn’t make it happen. It also speaks to the criticism I’ve had that the Bucs’ offense got even more vertical in 2017, which I think was a mistake. It’s hard to understate exactly how poorly the Bucs are leveraging their players here, but the next route should help illustrate this.
Go/Fly - (5.8 percent)
Who liked to air the ball out deep and outside the numbers last year? The average go route traveled 32.9 yards and was only completed 25.2 percent of the time.
Winston ranks dead last in total and per-play value at 35th. I can’t talk about this any better than FBO does:
The troubling name here is Winston at the very bottom in DYAR and DVOA. He loves the deep ball, and when you have Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, it makes perfect sense to throw go routes. However, Winston was 31st in DYAR and 28th in DVOA on go routes in 2016, because his accuracy just has not been up to par on those plays. Last season, it was even worse as he connected on just 13.6 percent of his 23 go routes. Winston was just 1-for-6 with a seventh play generating a pass interference flag on go routes to Jackson. The bigger issue was the 0-for-8 to Evans, which only featured one drop. Winston hit Chris Godwin on a go route for a 39-yard touchdown to beat the Saints in Week 17. With the way Godwin finished the season, it may be a good idea to use him out wide more in 2018 with Jackson allowed to do more drag routes, and for Evans to use his size advantage on more intermediate throws. It’s an interesting offense to look at on paper, but if Winston can’t start hitting the broad side of a barn with these deep throws, then it’s going to be a disappointing offense again.
Any conversation here has to include Winston’s injury last season, but how much of an effect did it have? Winston was poor throwing deep in 2016 too, though I don’t think it was smart to ask Winston to throw deep the fifth-most last season when 1) his shoulder was banged up and 2) he is very clearly really bad at it.
In truth, Winston’s deep accuracy wasn’t awful at Florida State, and his horrible deep ball mechanics can in part be arguably traced to his pre-draft work with alleged QB guru George Whitfield. Winston’s deep ball has looked much better this preseason, as Winston enters his fourth year in the NFL, but it remains to be seen if it has really been fixed, or at least improved.
There’s another issue here that needs to be discussed. Winston is very much a rhythm, streaky passer, and being asked to throw deep this often doesn’t really fit with that. As has been the case with Winston since he entered the league, consistency has been the final key to his game that has eluded him. It needs to improve if Winston is to be the player everyone wants him to be - no one would argue differently. But there’s an equally strong argument that the Bucs have mismanaged Winston and have lost games because they have done a poor job in fitting the offense to his strengths; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they’ve failed at scheming to hide his obvious weaknesses. It makes sense mathematically to be aggressive and go deep. But there are other ways to do it than just throwing go routes. Over this first three seasons is looks an awful lot like the Bucs asked Winston to be something he’s not.
How does this happen? In my opinion, Dirk Koetter regularly calls shot plays, looking to make a big play. If the coverage the play needs to succeed is different than the one the defense rolls out, the play is DOA at the snap, leaving Winston dry with his best option often just taking a sack. Other times Winston simply just flat out misses the throw.
So where do Winston and the Bucs go from here? The most obvious answer is Winston becomes that high-floor “microwave”-type player instead of a rhythm one, but that might be easier said than done. The other answer is the play-caller needs to call the shot play a lot less, or give Winston the freedom to check into the shot play based on how he reads the defense, instead of just calling it.
WR Screen - (-27.5 percent)
After ranking 5th/7th in 2016 throwing screens, Winston ranked seventh and eighth in 2017 with ten DYAR and -6.4 DVOA. He threw them 23 times for 162 yards, with an average YAC of 8 yards (NFL average 8.1). The average target depth was only 0.4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, tied for the furthest downfield among all quarterbacks listed.
The players you’re throwing to obviously mean a lot here because of the YAC. The correlation between YAC and DVOA was 0.86 for WR screens last year, which was much higher than on other routes.
Adam Humphries was targeted the most on screens for the Bucs. I think the Bucs are missing an opportunity to use Jackson here.
Post - (36.1 percent)
The post route is another longer throw in the game (average: 21.3 yards). No route produced more DYAR (2,097) in the NFL last year.
Winston ranked first in the NFL in DYAR at 159 yards above average and tenth in DVOA at 70 percent per-play better than average. He threw 27 passes for 386 yards, with a 70.4 percent catch rate (league avg. 49 percent). A 19.2 average target depth was a couple yards below the average, and a 3.0 YAC average seems relatively anemic. FBO said this:
Winston struggled on go routes, but the post route was very good for him, with the most DYAR in the league. That’s where Evans really comes in handy; he accounted for 83 of Winston’s 159 DYAR. The post route has also been good for the other quarterback taken at the top of the 2015 draft. Winston and Mariota have ranked in the top five in post DYAR in 2016 and 2017.
In 2016 Winston ranked fifth and twelfth running the post; it’s definitely one of his strengths. His 27 2017 attempts was third-most. The post, like the dig, may be one of those routes that causes quarterbacks to get hit more often.
Comeback - (-6.6 percent)
Comebacks have the lowest average YAC (0.9) of any route type with at least 100 attempts, but when the play is well timed and the pass is accurate, it is nearly impossible to defend.
Winston ranked second in DYAR with 38, and fifth in DVOA at 35.3 percent better than how an average quarterback would have been expected to perform given the same location and depth of passes. He attempted ten comebacks, good for 104 yards caught at an 80 percent clip (NFL avg. 54.2percent). The Winston to Evans comeback is indeed unstoppable. If I had to guess I’d say the comeback has kind of disappeared from the Bucs offense, as it seemed to be something they heavily relied on in Winston’s rookie year. I don’t have the numbers for 2015, but in 2016 they threw it 16 times.
Broken Play - (-12.6 percent)
Winston ranked 16th in both DYAR and DVOA last season, at 7 and -4.2 percent. FBO counts eleven broken attempts on broken plays for Winston (so we might have different definitions of the play), for 51 yards and a 54.5 percent catch rate (NFL avg. 42.5 percent). Despite often having deeper average depth of targets on many of these routes, Winston’s 12.6 average on broken plays was only slightly higher than the NFL average.
In 2016 FBO recorded 30 of these attempts by Winston, and he ranked 13th in both DYAR and DVOA.
Fade - (-12.5 percent)
As we discovered in Part 2, the fade is really a bad play, and the only time you should ever attempt it is when you do it back-shoulder. The following numbers don’t include back-shoulder attempts.
Winston attempted 16 fades last season, the eighth-most. The results weren’t good: 28th in DYAR at -38, and 27th in DVOA at -41.8 percent. Of the 16 attempts they only connected 20 percent of the time, 6.8 percent below the NFL average. The average target depth was 18.1 yards, about a yard below the average.
In 2016 Winston ranked 12th and 16th in DYAR and DVOA on 16 attempts, with a catch rate of 33.3 percent. It’s a low-percentage play that probably has a high variance year-to-year.
I hate it.
As we did with receivers, we also looked at the data for 202 plays marked as back-shoulder throws, which were much more effective with 12.3% DVOA. The leaders in back-shoulder fade attempts were Carr (13), Wilson (12), Brady (10), and Prescott (10).
I did see the Bucs run at least two back-shoulder fades with Winston this preseason, so it’ll be interesting to see if it’s incorporated into the offense more this year, or, hopefully, completely replaces the regular fade which the Bucs inexplicably love.
Seam - (27 percent)
This is just a go/fly route from the slot, which is interesting when you look at Winston’s numbers.
Winston finished fourth in DYAR with 76, and ninth in DVOA at 51.6 percent. Winston attempted it 19 times for 229 yards, with a 63.2 percent catch rate (45.8 percent league avg.). The average target depth was 19, just a smidge deeper than average, but the average YAC was a horrific 1.3 (league average was 6.5). I suspect part of the reason the YAC is so bad is because they often run it into the end zone from about 15 yards out. Winston’s 19 attempts was fourth-most last season, and in 2016:
The NFC South loved the seam route. Cam Newton (25), Drew Brees (24), and Winston (23, tied with Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton) led the league in seam routes, while Matt Ryan also had 16 of them with good efficiency numbers.
Winston is one of the best seam throwers in the league, and the argument could be made the Bucs could be running it even more than they already do.
The bottom line here, especially illustrated in the juxtaposition between the drag and the fly, is the Bucs could do a much better job putting their players in position to succeed. It certainly appears as if Koetter is running the offense he wants to run and not the one that fits his players’ skill sets. That’s not what good coaches do.
With that said, this study by Football Outsiders has highlighted clear strengths and weaknesses. Winston was among the ten best quarterbacks in attempting outs, drags, WR screens, posts, comebacks, and seams. That’s six of the twelve most-common routes thrown in the league. In fact, FBO averaged out all of the routes; Winston’s average total value DYAR rank was 12.4, which is good for sixth-best. His average per-play value (DVOA) ranking came out to 13.8, which was ninth-best.
So, if you remove Winston’s turnovers, he was a top ten quarterback last season. That includes the horrible inefficiency of the go/fly and fade routes. That should be really encouraging. If the Bucs’ staff are able to self-scout and realize their shortcomings when it comes to play-calling, and do something to help Winston out and adjust what they call, and if Winston can improve his consistency enough to meet them in the middle, the Bucs could have the makings of an elite offense.
In Part 4, we will look at the Buccaneers defense last season. Here’s a peek, and it also applies to our look at Winston here in Part 3:
For starters, the dig, curl, and comeback were once again the only three routes to have a negative trade-off of more than two percentage points in throwing touchdowns and interceptions. The post route, despite producing the second-highest DVOA, led to the highest interception rate for the second year in a row, which might explain why we don’t see it that often. Similar things could be said about corner and seam routes, though the corner route has been very successful. It had the highest touchdown rate (14.1 percent) and the best trade-off (+9.3 percent) last season, and would have been the overall leader again had we not introduced the back-shoulder fade.
It is worth keeping in mind how difficult this offense really is.