Stat Analysis
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Jameis Winston and the Three True Outcomes

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

In baseball, the three true outcomes of any at bat are a walk, a strikeout, and a home run. These are plays where the results are determined solely by the pitcher and batter. The defense doesn't have an impact on the play. Outfielders don't chase after tailing line drives. Pitchers don't flip to first. A scorcher into left field doesn't roll past a diving infielder. Instead, there is a pure battle between two individuals.

In football, actions like these are almost impossible to find. Each play has 22 men of an infinite number of sizes and shapes squashing, and slapping, and pushing, to work together to stop or move the football. Kickoffs out of the end zone are the singular occasion where a player operates in isolation. Every other play requires someone working with someone else against someone else. Even a punt returner calling for a fair catch takes place after a snap that can be mismanaged before possession changes.

Isolated plays between two players don't exist in football, but what we can find in football, in a similar sense, are plays that have a final result like walks, strikeouts, and home runs do, that also occur between as few as players as possible. Fumbles lead to chaotic leaping. Like rushing attempts, completions give various players the opportunity to run with the ball. Incompletions are affected by an infinite expanse of variables. These plays don't fit this criteria.

Touchdowns and interceptions end drives. Tackles end plays, but sacks end a play before the burden is given to someone else. These plays bring finality and closure. For a quarterback, touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks are the closest equivalent to baseball's three true outcomes (TTOs).

Since 1920, there have been 1,855 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 200 pass attempts in a season, but lost yardage on passing attempts wasn't tracked until 1961, and sacks weren't tracked for individual defensive players until 1982. The only way to accumulate the three true quarterback outcomes accurately is by starting with 1982 since sack data from earlier seasons isn't comprehensive. After combining these three plays together, there's one quarterback who stands above them all.

Jameis Winston's 2019 season was historical for all the right and wrong reasons. He's infamous for being the first quarterback to throw at least 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a single season. After taking in account the number of times he was sacked, a hilarious 47, Winston set the single-season NFL record with 110 plays that ended in either a touchdown, an interception, or a sack.

33 touchdowns. He heaved fades down the sideline, squirted quick slants in the red zone, reaped the awards of Chris Godwin stampeding after the catch, and even tossed a softball to Vita Vea into the flat.

30 interceptions. He stared through linebackers cloistered under invisibility cloaks, floated extraterrestrial passes that somehow found themselves illuminating above perplexed defenders, attempted out routes against corners with outside leverage, and saw passes bounce off his receivers' hands right to a defender. All of it culminated in his final pass with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a walk-off overtime pick-six thrown to Atlanta's Deion Jones to end the 2019 regular season. It's beautiful when things end up perfect and square.

47 sacks. Winston was splattered from behind after living lifetimes searching for a throwing option, obliterated by pressure surrounding him immediately after the play-action fake was carried out, devoured by deep-sea death marches swirling around the pocket, failed to escape after a defender wrangled him around his heels, suffocated under the gluttonous weight of interior pressure, and was surprised by blind-side pass-rushers slapping the ball out of his suddenly empty throwing hand.

Winston's 2019 season was one of the most extraordinary seasons in the history of the NFL. Winston is the all-time single-season leader with 110 TTOs. There isn't a wide gap between his kingdom at the top of the leaderboard and second place though.

Single-Season Three True Outcome Leaders, 1982-2019
Player Year Age Tm TD Int Sacks TTO
Jameis Winston 2019 25 TB 33 30 47 110
Jon Kitna 2006 34 DET 21 22 63 106
Blake Bortles 2015 23 JAX 35 18 51 104
Lynn Dickey 1983 34 GB 32 29 40 101
Steve Beuerlein 1999 34 CAR 36 15 50 101
David Carr 2002 23 HOU 9 15 76 100
Dave Krieg 1985 27 SEA 27 20 52 99
Ryan Tannehill 2013 25 MIA 24 17 58 99
Steve Beuerlein 2000 35 CAR 19 18 62 99
Aaron Brooks 2001 25 NO 26 22 50 98
Aaron Rodgers 2012 29 GB 39 8 51 98

Jon Kitna finished with 106 TTOs while quarterbacking the Detroit Lions in 2006. He threw 21 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, and led the NFL by taking 63 sacks. He held his position at the top for 13 seasons. Behind him was Blake Bortles. In 2015 Bortles had the A-Team of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns running up and down the sideline. Bortles threw 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while taking 51 sacks.

Only six quarterbacks managed to produce 100 TTOs in a single season, including Lynn Dickey, who held the record starting in 1983 until Steve Beuerlein tied him in 1993. And of course, David Carr, who made the leaderboard despite scant interception and touchdown numbers, all because he was sacked an NFL-record 76 times.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are quarterbacks who had the most banal and listless seasons. Among all passers with at least 200 pass attempts, Brian Hoyer's 10 TTOs with the Bears in 2016 are the lowest mark, followed by Ravens-era Steve McNair, Steve Walsh, Kerry Collins, and Doug Flutie. These were often game-managing backup quarterbacks who made a few spot starts.

Fewest Three True Outcomes, Single Season, 1982-2019
Player Year Age Tm Att TD Int Sk TTO
Brian Hoyer 2016 31 CHI 200 6 0 4 10
Steve McNair 2007 34 BAL 205 2 4 11 17
Steve Walsh 1991 25 NO 255 11 6 3 20
Kerry Collins 2009 37 TEN 216 6 8 6 20
Doug Flutie 2000 38 BUF 231 8 3 10 21
Matt McGloin 2013 24 OAK 211 8 8 6 22
Jay Schroeder 1994 33 ARI 238 4 7 11 22
Jason Campbell 2006 25 WAS 207 10 6 7 23
Carson Palmer 2014 35 ARI 224 11 3 9 23
Jim Zorn 1983 30 SEA 205 7 7 9 23
Drew Stanton 2014 30 ARI 240 7 5 11 23
Minimum 200 passes.

The 2019 "leader" in this category was Washington's Case Keenum, who had 31 TTOs (11 touchdowns, five interceptions, 15 sacks) in 247 pass attempts.

This is a quirky yet incomplete list that doesn't encapsulate those quarterbacks diametrically opposed to Winston, Kitna, and Bortles. The average number of passing attempts in this data set is 379. This figure can be used as a baseline marker as a way to narrow the focus on quarterbacks who were their team's primary starter.

Fewest Three True Outcomes, Starting QBs, Single Season, 1982-2019
Player Year Age Tm GS Att TD Int Sk TTO
Kerry Collins 2008 36 TEN 15 415 12 7 8 27
Jim Miller 2001 30 CHI 13 395 13 10 11 34
Joe Flacco 2018 33 BAL 9 379 12 6 16 34
Joey Harrington 2002 24 DET 12 429 12 16 8 36
Doug Williams 1988 33 WAS 10 380 15 12 10 37
Troy Aikman 1995 29 DAL 16 432 16 7 14 37
Neil O'Donnell 1995 29 PIT 12 416 17 7 15 39
Jeff George 1993 26 IND 11 407 8 6 26 40
Steve McNair 2006 33 BAL 16 468 16 12 14 42
Joey Harrington 2006 28 MIA 11 388 12 15 15 42
Joe Flacco 2015 30 BAL 10 413 14 12 16 42
Minimum 379 passes

Kerry Collins is the conservative leader here for managing the 2008 Tennessee Titans to a league best 13-3 record that ended in a 13-10 divisional-round loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Among quarterbacks listed here, Collins, Jim Miller, Troy Aikman, Neil O'Donnell, and Steve McNair led their teams to the postseason. The 1995 Super Bowl showcased two quarterbacks on this list when Aikman and O'Donnell "dueled" in a 27-17 Cowboys victory. Each of these quarterbacks benefited from playing with a top-ten scoring defense; aside from O'Donnell, each of their defenses made the top three. The 1995 Cowboys were the only team with a top-ten scoring offense. They finished third because Emmitt Smith had 25 rushing touchdowns, which was eight more touchdowns than Aikman had passing.

The teams that finished with losing records all had below-average defenses except for Joey Harrington's 2006 Dolphins, who went 6-10 despite having a top-five scoring defense. These teams had a combined record of 25-55 and a win percentage of .312. They allowed an average of 380 points a season and ranked 23rd in points allowed on average.

Harrington and Joe Flacco are the only quarterbacks on this list twice. Harrington's teams had a record of 9-23. Even on a second go-around with a top-five defense he couldn't win. Flacco's 2018 age-33 season led to him being benched for Lamar Jackson after Baltimore started 4-5. Jackson led the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and secured Baltimore a postseason berth.

The 2019 "leader" in this category was Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, who had 48 TTOs (26 touchdowns, five interceptions, 17 sacks) in 484 pass attempts. We should also mention New Orleans' Drew Brees -- with 378 passes, he missed the cutoff by just one throw, but he only had 43 TTOs (27 touchdowns, four interceptions, 12 sacks).

The last batch of quarterbacks to review are those who played before sack statistics were clearly documented. These are quarterbacks that lived and died on touchdown passes and interceptions before 1982.

Two True Outcome Leaders, pre-1982
Player Year Age Tm GS Att TD Int 2TOs
George Blanda 1962 35 HOIL 14 418 27 42 69
Daryle Lamonica 1969 28 OAK 14 426 34 25 59
John Hadl 1968 28 SD 14 440 27 32 59
George Blanda 1961 34 HOU 11 362 36 22 58
Babe Parilli 1964 34 BOS 14 473 31 27 58
Frank Tripucka 1960 33 DEN 14 478 24 34 58
Fran Tarkenton 1978 38 MIN 16 572 25 32 57
Sonny Jurgensen 1961 27 PHI 14 416 32 24 56
Sid Luckman 1947 31 CHI 7 323 24 31 55
Brian Sipe 1979 30 CLE 16 535 28 26 54

Both John Hadl and Babe Parilli were close to being the first members of the 30-30 club. Hadl missed it by three touchdowns short while Parilli fell three interceptions short of Winston's absurdist 2019 season. Sid Luckman is the only quarterback on this list to play before the 1960s. He was an All-Pro player who almost eclipsed a 10% interception rate, throwing 31 interceptions on only 323 attempts.

Blanda is the name that stands among all others on this list. He played football over the span of four decades. He sat out the 1959 season with Chicago because he felt he wasn't paid what he was worth, and started a second career in Houston in the 1960s. There the Oilers won two AFL championships. Blanda eventually moved to Oakland where he was the kicker and backup quarterback, but before that, he dominated the touchdown and interception categories. In 1961 he threw a then-record 36 touchdowns. The following season he followed that up with 27 touchdowns and 42 interceptions, which is still the single-season record to this day.

Blanda managed to break double-digits with an interception rate was 10.1%. With 200 pass attempts as a minimum threshold, this is the fifth-highest in the history of professional football. Eddie LeBaron had a 11.1% interception rate in with the expansion Dallas Cowboys in 1960 over 10 starts and 225 pass attempts. Sadly, Eddie only threw 12 touchdowns that season.

Winston isn't the first of his kind. He's the successor to quarterbacks such as Blanda, Lamonica, and Hadl, quarterbacks who found the center, who lived between the duality of success and failure, touchdowns and interceptions. Quarterbacks are made of quarterbacks. And of them, Winston can be seen as a spiritual successor to Blanda himself.

Now all Winston has to do is learn how to place kick.

Matt Weston writes about the Houston Texans, and the NFL in general, at Battle Red Blog, SB Nation's Houston Texans' site. You can follow him on Twitter @Matt__Weston.

Comments

17 comments, Last at 29 Jul 2020, 1:14am

1 In baseball, the three true…

In baseball, the three true outcomes of any at bat are a walk, a strikeout, and a home run. These are plays where the results are determined solely by the pitcher and batter. The defense doesn't have an impact on the play. Outfielders don't chase after tailing line drives. Pitchers don't flip to first. A scorcher into left field doesn't roll past a diving infielder. Instead, there is a pure battle between two individuals.

Ahh, but without a catcher pretty much every at-bat is a wild pitch on a strike-out ending with a runner at 2nd.

13 If you go to the link it…

If you go to the link it even notes "other than the pitcher and catcher" which I think is right. I only clicked the link because I had a similar thought to Aaron Brooks, only I was thinking that hey, doesn't the catcher have a role in calling the pitches. I haven't followed baseball in years (and years now) but recall some of the best catchers bitd getting credit for how they called a game. 

The link also takes a second to note the exception of inside-the-park home runs represent, but confusingly the link mentions another exception: "outfielders taking away potential homers at the wall," which of course is not a home run and thus not relevant to the term.

2 Looking over the list of…

Looking over the list of comps, Lynn Dickey was the name that jumped out at me as feeling like Winston.

On the anti-list, I have to admit, a list dominated by Baltimore and Pittsburgh just feels right.

3 Since 1920, there have been…

Since 1920, there have been 1,855 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 200 pass attempts in a season, but lost yardage on passing attempts wasn't tracked until 1961, and sacks weren't tracked for individual defensive players until 1982. The only way to accumulate the three true quarterback outcomes accurately is by starting with 1982 since sack data from earlier seasons isn't comprehensive.

Individual passers sacked on pass attempts have been officially tracked since 1963.  Pro Football Reference's data from 1969 on seem to be comprehensive for quarterbacks.

Isolated plays between two players don't exist in football

I can think of at least one.

4 Nice article

I only have one nit to pick with the article:

I would argue that the TTO's would only include TD's that do not involve YAC--which, admittedly, would be extremely hard to research. Realistically, although I know they are not tracked in baseball as a separate stat, an inside-the-park HR should not be part of TTO's, as it would involve a fielder who does not make a play that he is supposed to. (This would also include the extremely rare HR-off-the-glove/head.) Also, any INT that is deflected is similar. 

At the same time, great premise, research, and writing. 

It would be extremely hard to do this, but I would say that any time the offensive player in possession of the ball is able to go one-on-one with a defender (think in the open field, not a RB hitting the hole), tracking both as individuals to see how often the tackle is made versus broken would be really neat. I know that FO tracks broken tackles and rates for teams and individuals, so this set of stats is pretty close. 

6 It's interesting to see…

It's interesting to see which QBs have had the most eventful seasons. I'm not sure that TDs, INTs, or sacks are really influenced by fewer players than plays with other outcomes, though. Arguably, INTs and sacks are sometimes influenced by more players than completions, since the QB's initial read(s) is more likely to have been taken away than on a completion. And I'm not sure why a TD would be influenced by fewer players than any other completion, especially if the pass is caught outside the end zone.

It wouldn't make for an interesting article, but I think these are the plays where the fewest number of players can  have an actual effect on the outcome:

  • Kickoffs out of bounds / kickoffs out the back of the end zone (1: the kickoff specialist)
  • Free kick out of bounds / kickoffs out the back of the end zone (1: the kickoff specialist)
  • Kneeldowns and spikes (2: the center and QB are involved in the exchange, but nobody else has a real influence on the outcome)

Anything else from scrimmage at least involves everyone along the line, so from there I think distinctions start becoming much less meaningful.

12 Good call! Didn't think of…

Good call! Didn't think of that. Assuming it goes directly through the end zone and the intended recipient had no chance to catch it, that's a one-player play. Some have two players involved if the QB / punter had some chance of catching it, or if they end up batting the ball out of bounds.

11 Good call on the fair catch…

Good call on the fair catch kick, I forgot about that!

I considered intentional safety, but typically the players at the line of scrimmage try to block as long as they can to help maximize the time for which the clock is run. I guess that doesn't actually affect the outcome of the play the way we judge outcomes of most plays, though.

14 Rare FO article I didn't…

Rare FO article I didn't finish, didn't even get very far into—I just can't get behind the premise that these are remotely close to "true" outcomes or whatever. Oh well, not sure what compelled to comment, lol.

16 Shifting from having two…

Shifting from having two positive true outcomes (home runs and walks) and one negative outcome (strikeouts) to two negative outcomes (interceptions and sacks) and one positive outcome (touchdowns) has the wrong sort of feel for it.

Additionally, the football equivalent to a strikeout is probably a thrown away pass (both aren't productive, but aren't catastrophic the way a sack, intersection, or double play is.)  Note that a QB can throw away a pass without any other players being involved.