Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
What’s the most important trait to playing quarterback in the National Football League?
Some would argue that it’s arm strength, or, more specifically, arm talent. Those emphasizing it would say the natural (mostly genetic) ability to not only push the ball down the field, but also zip passes in with high velocity is the trait worth coveting the most because it cannot be taught.
But, just because it can’t be taught (to an extent), does that make it the most vital?
I would argue no.
Everything starts upstairs with a quarterback. If you don’t have the proper mental processing or instincts, none of this matters. But, if you do, I would argue that there is a trait more important that natural arm talent (to an extent) and that is the trait of accuracy – more specifically, touch.
You can throw the ball 100 yards down the field, I don’t care – actually, I would, that would be very impressive. But, if you can’t throw a slant route with speed, an out route to the sideline or a nine route in the basket, what does all that power do for you?
Accuracy matters most because where the ball ends up means more than how fast it gets there. I’m not the only one who thinks that either. There are plenty of people in the NFL and in the scouting community in general who use accuracy as their top requirement, or make-or-break, when scouting quarterbacks to the next level. One of those people is Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
Despite what some may say, accuracy is one of the few traits that I believe you cannot coach into a quarterback. You either have it or you don’t, and it is the single-most important aspect to being able to play the position at a high level.Accuracy is the ability to consistently deliver a pass to the right location. It sounds simple, but it’s the basis for everything a quarterback does. Knowing where to put the ball so a defender cannot reach it is all you want from your passer each time he steps back to throw.
But, let’s bring to the stage the topic of this whole accuracy conversation and that is Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, Jameis Winston. Last week we took a look at Winston’s decision making and what could be going on in his head that are causing some of these turnovers he needs to cut down on. I believe the conclusion as to why he may be processing things the way he does in his head was logical and could be corrected, but that still leaves another flaw of his we have to tackle.
Whether you’re Winston’s biggest fan or strongest hater, there is one thing you have to admit, he misses too many passes. In 2015, Winson was a 58.3 percent passer, which was pretty bad. His name was near the names of Johnny Manziel, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Blake Bortles – though, to be fair, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and even Aaron Rodgers were barely better. In 2016, he saw his number jump to 60.8 percent, which averages over to 59.5.
59 percent is right around where the Mendoza line for passers would be in the NFL where it doesn’t matter how many big throws you make, you’re just not completing enough other ones to win games – minus Eli Manning’s first Super Bowl in 2007, which still, to this day, doesn’t make any sense.
But, we here at the Cover 3 column hopefully know by now that numbers don’t mean a damn without context. Completion percentages doesn’t tell us the whole story. We don’t know why each pass was incomplete. We don’t know whose fault it was, what the coverage was like, whether it was a blitz, whether the pass was five yards or 50 yards; it’s just a number. Miller, once again, agrees on this subject.
Many people will want to look at completion percentage to assess the accuracy of a quarterback, but this can be misleading. If a quarterback completes the majority of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, he may have a high completion percentage, but poor intermediate-to-deep accuracy. This is why charting passes is so important.
He’s right. Simple stats without context don’t do us any good when evaluating player performances, scouting players to the next level, or figuring out how they can improve. Details are everything in the game of football, and it’s not that numbers don’t mean anything, they do. But, often they are not detailed enough to matter.
Thankfully we’re in the age of metrics. There are so many great people on twitter and outlets all over the Internet who devote tons of time towards logging advanced statistics. Fortunately for us, there is an outlet that has exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to Winston and the accuracy question. That outlet would be the folks over at BucsCentral.com.
Now, this chart is incomplete. It only goes through Week 16 of last season and doesn’t include the team’s Week 17 victory against the Carolina Panthers.
Instead of just looking at the 60.3 overall percent number at season’s end, let’s look at the chart above. The chart does a great job of not only telling us what the distance was on certain throws, but also tells us if they were under pressure. In addition to that, it gives us data on third downs and red zone chances. It also breaks up the field into fifths: left sideline, left, middle, right, right sideline.
Let’s start with the long ball, passes of 21 yards or longer. The only area of the field in which Winston completed more than half of his throws from deep was that left side – throws right outside the hash markers on the left. From there he was able to toss three touchdowns to just one interception. Versus pressure, however, Winston struggled there just like he did on the rest of the field, except for to the far left by the sideline – there he threw two deep ball scores.
On the intermediate level, Winston’s accuracy increased (as you would expect). His strength here was the middle of the field. You have to take into account the kind of routes that can be run at each level, as well. 15-yard “in” routes can be use from any wide receiver, and is usually a staple of any vertical offense (like the Bucs run). The intermediate level also includes heavy work from post routes and from the tight end position, which we know was effective due to Cameron Brate’s career year.
Short passes and passes behind the line of scrimmage were pretty much par for the course for what you’d want to see from a quarterback. Winston does fine in this are of his game. It’s when the ball must get pushed further down the field that he has trouble – a thought process that was had by many, but is now backed up with numbers.
One thing I can’t help but notice is that throws to his left had a far higher success rate on those intermediate to long throws to his right. Which is intriguing because Winston is right handed, so you would think it would be more natural for him to turn his body that direction, maintain technique and deliver a well placed ball. In fact, he also did worse under pressure to his natural side than any other fraction of the field. Also, if you’ll notice, Winston had four throws of 21 yards or more to the left sideline, while under pressure, where he completed two of those for touchdowns. The passes from that same distance under pressure to his right side, he was 0-for-3.
Maybe it’s all coincidence. On the other hand, maybe it’s not. But, to add onto the beauty of the Cover 3 column, not only do we get numbers with context, we look at the context ourselves. On the next page we’ll go through some of Winston’s 2016 film to see if there’s a mental, technical or situational reason he’s favoring competitions to one side when throwing deep, and perhaps locate a reason to think he’ll be more consistent in 2017.