On the Numbers: Former Heisman winners shine, big ground games and more
1:31 | NFL
On the Numbers: Former Heisman winners shine, big ground games and more
Monday November 23rd, 2015

Welcome to Week 11 of “On the Numbers,” a weekly column that mines for statistical oddities and numerical fun facts from around the NFL.

On a week that saw Eddie Lacy finally reach 100 yards rushing, Patrick DiMarco catch two touchdown passes and Mark Sanchez throw three interceptions, there was plenty to track across the league.

• News, analysis, highlights, injuries and more from Week 11 in the NFL

Feats of Strength

A pair of former Heisman Trophy winning No. 1 draft picks set career highs Sunday with five passing touchdowns each: Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.

Newton’s five TDs for 10–0 Panthers leave critics short on material

Newton is in his fourth season, and he had never even thrown for four touchdowns in one game. The last time he threw for four touchdowns in one game was the 2010 SEC Championship game when Auburn blew out South Carolina 56–17.

Newton also notched his 100th career touchdown pass on the day, and then numbers 101 and 102 for good measure. Much is made of his rushing numbers, because those are historically great for a quarterback. But his passing stats aren’t too shabby, and he’s now 15th on the list of most career touchdown passes in a player’s first five seasons.

Dan Marino 1983–87 Dolphins 71 69 168
Peyton Manning 1998–2002 Colts 80 80 138
Matt Ryan 2008–12 Falcons 78 78 127
Andy Dalton 2011–15 Bengals 74 74 119
Jeff Garcia 1999–2003 49ers 74 71 113
Matthew Stafford 2009–13 Lions 61 61 109
Johnny Unitas 1956–60 Colts 58 52 109
Drew Bledsoe 1998–97 Patriots 76 75 108
Brett Favre 1991–95 Falcons, Packers 65 61 108
Aaron Brooks 2000–04 Saints 72 69 107
Carson Palmer 2004–08 Bengals 65 65 107
Jim Kelly 1986–90 Bills 71 71 105
Jay Cutler 2006–10 Broncos, Bears 68 68 104
Frankie Albert 1946–50 49ers 66 50 102
Joe Flacco 2008–12 Ravens 80 80 102
Cam Newton 2011–15 Panthers 72 72 102

Newton has had more games to work with than some of the other guys on this list, but his career average of 1.42 touchdowns per game would move him into sixth on this list if he plays all six of the Panthers’ remaining games.

Winston shows critical improvement in dominant performance vs. Eagles

Winston had been blanked in his last two games, and hadn’t thrown for more than two touchdowns in any of his first nine pro games. His last five-TD game was in October 2013 when Florida State blew out Maryland 63–0. On Sunday he and Doug Martin, who had 235 yards rushing, made the Eagles look like a college defense at times.

Winston joined Matthew Stafford as just the second rookie ever to throw for five touchdowns in a game, and he became the first to do it without throwing an interception. At 21 years, 321 days old, he also became the youngest player with five passing touchdowns and no interceptions. How much is that an indicator of future success? Well the previous youngest were Josh Freeman and Dan Marino, so you can be the judge.

Jameis Winston 21 years, 321 days Week 11, 2015 5 0
Josh Freeman 22 years, 347 days Week 16, 2010 5 0
Dan Marino 22 years, 353 days Week 1, 2985 5 0

Two-Way Players

Some of the most fun statistical anomalies come when players are asked to do things they don’t normally do. Punters throwing the ball! Kickers running! Lineman trying to catch passes!

It’s particularly exciting when players switch sides of the ball. We normally see this when defensive players come in on offense, especially at the goal line. There were two prime examples Sunday, with the Texans dialing up a pass pattern to J.J. Watt and the Chiefs handing off for Dontari Poe for a rushing touchdown.

Week 11 Snaps: Broncos have no reason to switch quarterbacks again

We don’t often see it the other way with offensive players coming in for defense, but we had a rare occurrence at the end of the Colts-Falcons game, when tight end Coby Fleener came in as part of the Colts’ Hail-Mary-Extreme-Prevent defense. 

We’ve seen other offensive players do this, but in a situation when players are usually better off trying to knock the ball down instead of going for the pick anyway, they rarely come away with the interception. But Matt Ryan’s last ditch effort fell short of the end zone and Coby Fleener actually caught it for an interception.

According to Pro Football Reference, he’s the first tight end with an interception since the Broncos’ Tony Scheffler in Week 1 of 2009. Fleener caught three passes for 45 yards on Sunday, giving him 36 catches on the season. Only three players in the Super Bowl era had at least 36 catches in the same season they earned an interception for the defense: Randy Moss, Deion Sanders and now Coby Fleener. 

That’s some list to join. 

Errorless debut as starter showcases Osweiler as QB to fulfill Kubiak’s vision

Moss’s interception came in 2009 with the Patriots, when he intercepted a Kyle Orton pass on the final play of the first half in a game against the Broncos. Sanders was a more legitimate two-way player for the Cowboys in 1996, when he caught 36 balls for 475 yards and was named First Team All-Pro for his defense.

Once upon a time it was much more common for players to catch passes on both sides of the ball. Most notably, Hall of Famer Don Hutson had three separate seasons with at least 45 catches and six interceptions.

But for Fleener, this is likely just a trivia question, a story for his grandkids and a quirky footnote at the bottom of his stats page.

Partial Listings

I wrote about Seahawks undrafted rookie running back Thomas Rawls after his breakout game in Week 5. Little did I know he’d be back with an even bigger game later in the season. But with Marshawn Lynch out of the lineup, the Seahawks turned to him to lead their rushing attack in a game they really needed against San Francisco to get their season back on track.

Rawls responded with 209 rushing yards on 30 carries, plus three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown each on the ground and through the air.

Many running backs much more accomplished than Rawls have never had a day like he did on the ground, including the player he replaced in the Seahawks’ backfield. Here’s a partial listing of some of those running backs:

Matt Forte 114 205 8,252
Curtis Martin 168 203 14,101
Ricky Watters 144 178 10,643
Marcus Allen 222 173 12,243
Marshawn Lynch 127 153 9,112

Bumping up the qualifications to Rawls’s 255 yards from scrimmage narrows the pool even more. Here is a partial listing of players who have never racked up as many yards from scrimmage in a game as Rawls did on Sunday:

Barry Sanders 253
Eric Dickerson 245
Arian Foster 238
Emmitt Smith 237
LeSean McCoy 221
Marshawn Lynch 177

Perfect Passer

Twenty-nine players have thrown passes so far in Week 11, but only one was spotless without an incompletion: Cecil Shorts III. Granted, the Texans’ wide receiver only threw one pass, but the trick play went for a touchdown when T.J. Yates threw him a screen pass slightly backwards and then he launched it to Alfred Blue for a 21-yard touchdown.

It was one of the plays of the day, as the Texans won 24–17 to stay tied atop the AFC South and alive in the Wild Card race.

With Romo back and all the pressure off, Cowboys remain very much alive

Shorts, a former quarterback in college at Mount Union, also threw two passes during his time with the Jaguars. He has now completed all three of his passing attempts for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

The odds are probably against Shorts finishing his career with a perfect completion percentage. If a guy like Shorts is good enough to keep throwing, his teams will probably try the play often enough until he eventually fails. (Case in point: Ladanian Tomlinson finished his career 8-for-12 with seven touchdowns; Antwaan Randle El was 22-for-27 with six touchdowns, plus 1-for-3 in the playoffs with his 51-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.)

So there’s no lineup of guys finishing their careers 10-for-10 as passers. The record for most career completions without an incomplete pass is six by Bill Donckers, who played just two seasons, both for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1976 and 1977. His Pro Football Reference page lists him as a quarterback with no other stats. The record for a non-QB is five by Mohammad Sanu, the Bengals receiver who is still active. 

Shorts is just one clunker of a pass from disappearing off this list forever, but at the moment he joins this list of players with multiple touchdown passes and a spotless 100% completion percentage.

Mohamed Sanu 2012–15 Bengals 5 5 117 2
Cecil Shorts III 2011–15 Jaguars, Texans 3 3 53 2
Arthur Marshall 1992–96 Broncos 2 2 111 2
Kevin Lockett 1997–2003 Redskins 2 2 45 2
Curtis Martin 1995–2005 Jets 2 2 36 2
Earnest Graham 2004–11 Buccaneers 2 2 5 2

It may take years for Shorts to add to his passing numbers (although maybe he’ll get more opportunities the long T.J. Yates is in control of the Texans’ offense).

But for now, maybe just keep an eye on him. And cover your man downfield when he has the ball behind the line of scrimmage.

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