NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans great Eddie George addressed the team before practice last Thursday, urging the players to take the home opener against IndiaNapolis personally. If quarterback Marcus Mariota took former running back’s words to heart, he’s surely feeling sick after Tennessee’s disappointing loss.
Mariota finished the day having completed 19 of his 28 pass attempts for 154 yards and a touchdown. But there were a lot of plays left on the field for him and the Titans offense. No one questions Mariota’s talent and potential, but issues that typically plague first- or second-year quarterbacks continue to surface even in Mariota’s fifth season.
The very first offensive play of the game is a perfect example: Mariota had Delanie Walker wide open with plenty of space to run, but the pass was behind the tight end and fell incomplete. (Animation provided by NFL Next Gen Stats.)
Instead of starting the game with a big play, the opening series resulted in a three-and-out.
Mariota missed another opportunity later when he didn’t connect with a wide-open Corey Davis on an out-breaking route that would have been at least a 12-yard gain. Instead, Tennessee was forced to punt, failing to take advantage of a Logan Ryan interception that gave the Titans the ball at their own 40-yard line.
Sacks are another issue. The Titans gave up four on Sunday, but some of those are on Mariota for not getting rid of the ball fast enough. Walker had a chance at making a big play when he was wide open on a crossing route, but Mariota failed to pull the trigger even though the tight end came open right in front of him. The play ended in a 7-yard loss when Mariota was sacked.
“Maybe instead of taking some of these sacks, just dumping it off so we can go and get some positive yards. Those are things that I’ve got to do better and help our offense out,” Mariota said during his postgame news conference.
“We discussed being able to scramble when you have to scramble,” coach Mike Vrabel said, “and know when you have to get out there, check the ball down when you have to, or throw it away when you have to.”
Mariota could have checked down to running back Dion Lewis for a minimal gain on a third-down play in the third quarter, but instead he took a sack that resulted in a 7-yard loss. That led to a longer field goal attempt for Cairo Santos (from 45 yards), who missed the kick.
“In that situation, obviously getting the ball out [and] not taking a sack would’ve been better,” Mariota said of the play.
Mariota’s lone touchdown pass came on a tackle-eligible play in which he found offensive lineman David Quessenberry for a 1-yard touchdown. Quessenberry was able to haul in the pass even though it was slightly behind him.
Mariota’s accuracy, field vision and pocket awareness have to get better.
To his credit, Mariota does make some outstanding plays to offset the bad ones. He has shown an ability to extend plays and still deliver strikes to receivers down the field. For example, he rolled to his left on a play against the Colts and delivered a bullet to A.J. Brown for an 11-yard gain on an out-breaking route. Mariota’s play-action pass to Davis in the first quarter was also on the money, allowing him to gain yards after the catch.
Winning and losing is a total team effort. It’s wrong to say the Titans lost on Sunday because of Mariota, but it’s fair to say they could have won if he had played better. Mariota has to make progress if the Titans want to make a run and find themselves playing after December.