A lot went wrong on Sunday against the Browns, but perhaps most notably was the lack of pass protection for Marcus Mariota. Mariota was sacked 7 times, and either hit or hurried several times beyond that. Because of the poor pass protection, Mariota played most of the game with a visible limp that seemed to limit his mobility, exacerbating the problems. In this article, I take a look at each of the 7 sacks to determine what went wrong.
As a primer, if you haven't read my article on pass blocking 101, I suggest you take a quick look at that first. This article will offer some insight into the schemes that most NFL teams employ when pass blocking.
The first sack of the game is the play that injured Mariota. This is a sprint out to Mariota's left, and the entire O line slide blocks left. The Browns bring 6 defenders, but initially, everyone is accounted for. However, the two man route is well covered. When Mariota stops and reverses direction, Wright breaks to his right, and is absolutely wide open. You can't see it here, but the over the top safety help has collapsed on Hunter, and if Mariota could find Wright, it's an easy TD.
However, as Mariota changes directions, he loses his shoe and trips. The trip leads to a sack and an injury. At this point in the game a touchdown would have been huge. There's no one to blame for this sack except for the Cleveland Browns turf monster. Or perhaps the equipment manager.
Presnap, there are two TEs to Mariota's right and McCluster to Mariota's left.
Both TEs release down the field, leaving Poutasi, the right tackle, in a one on one matchup with the defensive end. The defensive end looks for a brief moment like he's going to trail the TEs back into pass coverage, and in that split second, Poutasi reaches inside to help the right guard, Meredith. As soon as Poutasi turns his shoulders, the DE races around him untouched to bring Mariota down.
This is tough play for a rookie RT. He needs to stay committed to the DE for longer, and if he does help the right guard, he needs to make sure he keeps his outside arm free so that he can pick up anything coming late outside.
On this play, there are no TEs in the box, and only McCluster to Mariota's left offers extra pass protection. The Browns show 6 in the box, but only bring the 4 down linemen. The Browns engage and stunt to Mariota's left, but the left side of the line manages to pick that up fairly well.
The linemen to the Titans' right engage and stunt as well. Poutasi gets collapsed into the pocket as Mariota is trying to slide to his right. Poutasi ends up right in front of Mariota as the DT stunts to the outside in pursuit. Mariota has to quickly retreat back up into the pocket and to his left, and is no longer able to get a pass off, as the DT shoves Poutasi out of the way and completes the sack.
On this play, Poutasi got suckered into the stunt, ended up too deep in the pocket, and still couldn't secure the stunting DT on the edge to keep him from sacking Mariota. That being said, if Mariota hadn't tried to slide right after the snap, the pass blocking may have been good enough for him to get the throw off. In this case, the sack was a result of less than perfect pocket presence from Mariota and poor stunt pickup from Poutasi.
The next sack came from a rare dropback pass from under C in a big formation. We have 3 TEs and 1 RB. One of the TEs shifts left, and we attempt a play action pass. Meredith actually pulls left to sell the play action fake. Mariota only has a half attempt at showing the fake, I'm assuming because his mobility was too limited by the ankle injury for him to really get around to Sankey. Not that that really mattered.
Poutasi steps hard to his left, immediately turns outside and gets run around very quickly. Mariota never had a chance. I'm not sure if Poutasi expected to have TE help, but the TE is making sure the edge player doesn't rush. It's hard to say what was going through Poutasi's head here or what the assignment was, but it ends up looking like Poutasi gets badly beaten again.
The next sack occurs on the very next play. It's shotgun, 11 personnel with the TE standing up split from the line. The Browns have a safety walk into the box to make 7 players. They're showing blitz, but they're moving around so much, it's not obvious who is or isn't coming, or where they're coming from.
After the snap, the Browns bring 6 and the OLB stays in man coverage on Coffman, who is running a 10 yard in or curl. Despite the confusion, everyone seems to identify who they're supposed to be blocking. However, Poutasi is slow out of his stance and gets beat off the edge. The outside rusher gets to Mariota practically untouched, before Coffman's route breaks.
It's here that I'll note these first 5 sacks came before the Titans scored a single point. Over the next two drives, they'd score two touchdowns and not give up a sack. So in that regard, the pass blocking did improve for a bit, and the result was more productive drives. The last two sacks came after the 2 minute warning in the 4th quarter and after Manziel had just dashed our dreams of a comeback with a deep ball to go back up by 2 TDs.
This is a familiar formation, 11 personnel with the TE split just off the LOS. The Browns run a zone blitz and bring a cornerback to Mariota's right, away from McCluster. They overload the right side of the offensive line, so McCluster has to try to get over and make the pickup. The corner runs right by McCluster to hit Mariota as he's hitting the top of his drop and sliding left.
I'll leave analysis of the pass play to others, but this is one of the only sacks that leave you wondering if Mariota could have gotten the ball out a little sooner.
The last sack looks a lot like Sack 2, only it's Lewan instead of Poutasi. At the snap, Lewan sets his pass drop, and punches the inside man to help out Byron Bell. He doesn't get as overcommited as Poutasi did on play 2, but as he's looking inside, the DE runs around him to sack Mariota as Mariota is trying to throw.
I don't know if the tackles punching inside to help the guards was something that the Titans were specifically coaching to do, but in this game, it really hurt us on the edge twice.
Giving up 7 sacks is atrocious. I went into this game expecting to see a mix of young linemen, a hurt guard, and a young quarterback all conspiring to produce an unusual amount of sacks. While that's partially true, what really stands out is how raw Poutasi is in pass blocking. Giving up one or two sacks is having a bad game, but giving up four in one game is a different level.
That being said, there's nothing physical about his game preventing him from improving. His sacks were things like mental errors and not getting off the ball quickly enough. And the Browns contributed to confusing him by running stunts, showing exotic pre snap alignments, and bringing blitzes. With the "right fundamentals and techniques", Poutasi could develop into a very good right tackle. But we need that to happen sooner rather than later.