The Titans marked the beginning of a new era in franchise history when they announced Mariota's name from the podium in Chicago last Thursday evening. The Titans biggest question mark was answered with an exclamation.
The Need For Offensive Dynamism
The 2014 Titans failed across the board on offense, with an appalling 3rd down conversion %, low points, and a general lack of direction. Quarterback instability deep-sixed any potential the offense had of taking off, and it left standouts like Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright starved for production. The lack of a true running game hurt the team in a big way as well, and combined with blunders that put the team in the hole early in games, made the team one dimensional. NFL defensive coordinators preyed on this predictability.
Mariota gives the team an added element. And no, I'm not (just) talking about his running ability. At Oregon, Mariota utilized superb diagnosis skills to determine optimal match-ups. He made frequent calls at the line to adjust protection, audible plays, and take advantage of favorable defensive alignments. On top of this, he displayed unheard of judgment with the ball (the lowest interception % in NCAA history, in fact). His consistent ability to put the ball in the right place and run the Oregon system to perfection made him stand out. More than anything, it's his ability to read defenses in nano-seconds than makes him special. His impressive athleticism is simply an added bonus.
In the play below against Tennessee, Oregon is operating out of a spread formation, with WR trips on the left and a lone wideout to the right (top of the screen). Tennessee used many of these spread concepts last season, for the record. The Volunteers are in nickel personnel here. Mariota has a running back to his left, and is taking the snap from the gun.
Mariota gives a convincing play fake to his back, and quickly diagnoses that he has single man coverage across the board, except for the strong safety (white circle), who appears to be playing a central zone. He correctly reads that there is no blitz on the play.
The play action here gives pause to the linebackers, and draws in the safety. Mariota quickly diagnoses this coverage, and is able to hit to post route (to #1) for a TD. While the scheme here plays into Mariota's favor, it's his quick recognition skills and accuracy that allow this play to go for 6. Contrary to pre-draft critics, Mariota is able to deftly hit the anticipatory post route here with little issue. The Titans utilized a lot of these formations last season (also from the gun), so the new QB's fit might not be as big a stretch as some have made it out to be. This play is but one (limited) example of the skills that Mariota brings to the Titans.
(Credit to www.californiagoldenblogs.com for the images)
On top of his intelligence and off-the-charts intangibles, Mariota's athleticism and escapability are also huge advantages for the Titans. Guys like Kendall Wright (and now Harry Douglas) have shown they can be effective playmakers when plays break down. Mariota has shown a consistent effort to keep his eyes downfield even when scrambling and/or simply avoiding the rush. With some burners on the edge on Green-Beckham and Justin Hunter, as well as some running backs who are comfortable in the passing game, the stretch-effect put on defenses could present killer opportunities for Marcus to extend the play and take full advantage. More than the "running QB", its the QB's who can extend the play and deliver passes when things have broken down that are becoming the future of the league. Your Andrew Lucks, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilsons of the world are testament to that.
I wrote about this the other night, and I think it bears mentioning that for the Titans to shake the stink of a 2-14 season, there has to be changes not just in personnel, but also in the culture of the locker room. There has to be a clear direction for this roster, and a guy like Mariota sets them on that path, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Will he bring something different to the table in this regards than a guy like Jameis Winston? Absolutely. Tennessee would also likely garner more from Mariota in the win-loss column than they would have if they decided to forgo the QB position altogether and go with a defender.
To make a long story short, the Titans made the right call when they selected Marcus Mariota at #2 overall. If you truly believe that you have a special player at QB available to you, you take him. If you're an NFL GM (especially one with some pressure on his shoulders like Ruston Webster) you don't take a bundle of picks offered in a trade for him. You don't second guess the selection. You just take him. As I wrote about often leading up to the draft, the high opinions of Mariota from Titans fans was not an indictment of incumbent Zach Mettenberger. Its simply the belief that you can't pass up a player who you believe is a transcendent talent. While it's not going to be all roses, with the growing pains that accompany all rookie signal callers expected to be there, he represents a new brand of Tennessee football. This is a new beginning for the Titans, and hopefully, the start of a franchise getting back on it's feet.