Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Photo Credit: New York Post

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense in 2018 was undeniably exciting to watch. They were very successful statistically, ranking third in the NFL with 415.5 yards per game.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were second to last in turnover differential in 2018. Combined with the fact that they had the 27th ranked defense in the NFL, the Buccaneers produced some incredibly entertaining games. This inconsistent and explosive play style was almost entirely dependent on the team’s quarterbacks: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston.

Examining the similarities between Fitzpatrick and Winston in 2018

Upon examination, Fitzpatrick and Winston’s statistics were surprisingly similar. The comparison is not perfect since Winston played 260 more snaps than Fitzpatrick did. However, the numbers are still fascinating to consider. Fitzpatrick threw for 2,366 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, while Winston threw for 2,992 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. The numbers are similar enough that, in many ways, which quarterback was playing did not matter all that much.

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick and Winston were also 2018’s two highest-rated quarterbacks in the NFL according to the PFN Offensive Share Metric (OSM). Fitzpatrick received the higher rating of the two, with an impressive grade of 36.78. Winston’s grade was significantly lower, at 32.74, but this was still almost two points better than the player below him. These grades are primarily a product of the two quarterback’s play styles. They played very aggressively, trying to force the ball downfield as often as possible, and did everything they could to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities. This style of play often led them to take risks they arguably should not have. However, it also meant that they were able to succeed on throws that other quarterbacks might not have even attempted.

Comparing Fitzpatrick and Winston to the rest of the NFL

Because their numbers were so similar, it is interesting to try combining the statistics of the two quarterbacks. You can then see how they compare with the rest of the NFL. If you do this, the numbers actually look rather impressive. Between the two of them, Fitzpatrick and Winston threw for 5,358 passing yards, more than any actual NFL quarterback. They also threw 36 touchdowns, which would have been third most in the NFL, and 26 interceptions, which again would have been the most in the NFL, this time by a large margin.

If either Fitzpatrick or Winston had played for the entire season, their numbers might very well have looked similar to the ones above. And those numbers might have dramatically shifted the perception of their play. The interceptions would still be viewed as a problem, but their incredibly high statistics in other areas would have helped to offset this. Because they both played fewer snaps than other NFL quarterbacks, their numbers do not look all that impressive. But when you combine their statistics it shows just how productive, if inconsistent, both of the Buccaneers quarterbacks were in 2018.

Why Fitzpatrick and Winston threw so many interceptions

One reason Fitzpatrick and Winston played so recklessly was that the Buccaneers running game was very poor in 2018. Tampa Bay’s leading rusher, Peyton Barber, had just 871 yards and only five touchdowns. His OSM rating was even worse than these statistics would indicate, with a dismal grade of 19. This rating was one of the worst of any running back measured. And again, this was in the third-ranked offense of the NFL. The Buccaneers managed to gain more yards than the vast majority of the NFL despite the fact that they got almost no help from their running game.

Tampa Bay also received very little help from their defense last season, which was one of the worst in the NFL statistically. The Buccaneers defense allowed 383.4 yards per game, which was 27th in the NFL, and 29 points per game, which was second worst in the NFL. The defense’s failures meant that Tampa Bay’s offense needed to do more to compensate. And since their running game was largely ineffective, all of that burden fell on the shoulders of the Buccaneers passing game. These facts help to explain at least some of the many interceptions. While it is true that Fitzpatrick and Winston may have often taken too many risks, they almost did not have a choice. If they did not win the game by themselves, they probably were not going to win at all.

Why Bruce Arians may have chosen Tampa Bay

When you look at Tampa Bay’s offense in this way, it is easier to see what drew their new head coach, Bruce Arians, back to the NFL. Although Fitzpatrick is now with the Miami Dolphins, Winston could be the perfect fit for the kind of team Arians wants the Buccaneers to be. Arians has always run pass-first, aggressive offenses, so he should be a good match for Winston’s aggressive play style. If he can help Winston find the proper balance between confidence and caution, then Tampa Bay could be a dangerous team in the near future.

Admittedly, getting a historically inconsistent quarterback like Winston to throw fewer interceptions is easier said than done. However, if anyone would be able to accomplish this, it would be Bruce Arians. He has a reputation as an excellent quarterbacks coach and is particularly well known for helping to develop young guys. He was Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach for the first three years of his career, Ben Roethlisberger’s offensive coordinator during his first three years in the NFL, and Andrew Luck’s head coach and offensive coordinator during his rookie season. All three of these quarterbacks went on to be very successful. And Winston is still only 25 years old. There is plenty of time for Arians to mold him into a legitimate NFL star.

Whether or not pairing Arians and Winston will actually be successful is still uncertain. The potential is clearly there, but that does not necessarily mean the plan will work. It is possible that even Arians will be unable to fix Winston’s inconsistencies. It is also possible that the lack of a stout defense will continue to hold the entire team back. That said, I believe the Buccaneers fans have legitimate reasons for optimism regarding their team’s future at quarterback. And I do not think many people would have said prior to last season.