Here’s perhaps the most shocking statistic of the season: Jameis Winston has thrown 17 interceptions.
Here’s the number of Power 5 QBs who have thrown more: Zero.
Of course, all those turnovers haven’t exactly doomed Florida State to failure, but they certainly haven’t helped Seminoles fans’ blood pressure either.
But that’s sort of the fun of having Winston as your QB, right? Never a dull moment -- both good and bad.
Rather than lament the INTs that haven’t amounted to losses, however, the more interesting question might be why so many picks are happening.
“Sometimes it's him, sometimes it's guys around him,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We've just been out of sync at different times, but he's played well. Boston College game he played really well the first half. It can be a lot of things. His interceptions came from his poor decisions, came from dropped balls, came from a route not being where it's supposed to be or a blitz not being picked up. I don't think there's any one thing that you can say.”
A myriad of concerns, but let’s start with those receivers.
Winston’s targets this year certainly haven’t been as productive as the Rashad Greene/Kelvin Benjamin/Kenny Shaw trio that dominated defensive backs a year ago, and beyond Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary, there wasn’t much in the way of experience in the group. That’s shown up as Winston has made his share of throws expecting a receiver to be one place -- only to find a defensive back there instead.
There’s no great way of tracking how many bad routes FSU’s receivers have run, but we can look at Winston’s targets for his veterans vs. the kids.
The distinction was pretty apparent in last week’s game against Florida. When targeting O’Leary and Greene, Winston was 7-of-10 for 87 yards and two touchdowns. When targeting anyone else, he was just 5-of-14 for 38 yards with four interceptions.
But if we look at the season as a whole, many of those distinctions disappear. Here’s Winston’s overall numbers (completion percentage, yards per attempt, TDs and INTs) for the season:
Greene 2013 (116 targets): 64.7% completions, 9.7 YPA, 9 TD, 4 INT
Greene 2014 (113 targets): 68.1% completions, 9.3 YPA, 4 TD, 4 INT
O’Leary 2013 (42 targets): 76.2% completions, 12.9 YPA, 6 TD, 1 INT
O’Leary 2014 (62 targets): 61.3% completions, 7.1 YPA, 5 TD, 5 INT
Others 2013 (226 targets): 66.4% completions, 10.6 YPA, 25 TD, 5 INT
Others 2014 (217 targets): 64.5% completions, 8.1 YPA, 12 TD, 8 INT
*Source: ESPN Stats & Info
Winston’s completion percentage to Greene is up a tick and his INT rate is roughly the same. It’s also worth noting that, in just 11 games, Winston has already targeted Greene nearly as many times as he did in 14 games last season. That increased reliance on Greene could be one concern.
O’Leary’s catch rate has lowered more, but he’s been targeted far more often than he had been a year ago. More noticeably, Winston had just one pick throwing at O’Leary last year, but has thrown five this season.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group isn’t dramatically less reliable (in terms of completion percentage), but it’s provided far less big-play punch -- averaging 2.5 fewer yards per attempt and half the rate of touchdowns. That lack of a big-play threat has perhaps convinced Winston that he needs to force a few more balls to make up for it, and that’s led to extra picks.
But what about those drops that Fisher mentions? Has that been a real problem? Not even close, actually. Last season, FSU receivers had a drop every 21 passes. This season, they’ve dropped just one out of every 31.
Of course, the other obvious takeaway from those numbers is that Winston is simply throwing more altogether. He’s already attempted more passes this season than he did last season, though some of that margin comes from playing full games rather than relaxing on the sideline during the latter half of a blowout.
But some of it is out of necessity, too. While Dalvin Cook has injected some life into the ground game of late, FSU’s running backs have been far less productive as a whole than last season (6.52 yards per carry in 2013, 4.89 this year). And as a result, FSU’s playcalling has shifted more toward Winston. The Seminoles are throwing on 56.2 percent of their plays this season -- up from just 50.2 percent a year ago. That’s a difference of about four more attempts per game over the course of a season.
Winston’s passing attempts per game have jumped 30 percent from a year ago, which is the seventh most by any returning starting QB, and with more attempts comes more predictability and more opportunities for mistakes. But given Winston’s level of talent and his nearly flawless performances last year, four attempts per game doesn’t seem like it should be enough to nearly double his turnover rate.
The running backs have changed as well, and Fisher notes that on occasion, blitzes haven’t been picked up. It’s true, too, that Winston’s numbers vs. the blitz are down from a year ago.
Indeed, he’s thrown three times the number of interceptions this season and half as many touchdowns. That’s bad news. But look at those sack numbers. He’s been sacked on the blitz just three times, compared with 13 last season in roughly the same number of drop-backs.
The critique a year ago was that Winston was holding the ball too long. That’s not appeared to be as much of an issue this season, but perhaps it’s countered by being too willing to let the ball fly.
But really, the only true answer is the one Fisher gave. It’s a lot of things. Winston has made some poor decisions. His receivers haven’t run the right routes. A few flukes here and there have led to some big mistakes.
At the end of the day, those mistakes haven’t cost FSU yet. That could certainly change this week against Georgia Tech. Or, perhaps, this is the week Winston and the offense finally figure out what’s gone wrong.