The Titans are riding a three-game winning streak, and they’re doing so at the right time. With Marcus Mariota gradually getting healthier and feeling more comfortable in Matt LaFleur’s offense, starting off 3-1 in the first quarter of the season is huge for the current leaders of the AFC South.
On Sunday, Mariota came through for the Titans with one of his best career performances, completing a nice 69.8 percent of his passes for 344 yards, two touchdowns, a pick, and a rushing touchdown. His efforts pushed Tennessee over the top in overtime against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles 26-23.
For this week’s edition of Keeping Up With Marcus Mariota, let’s take a look at what exactly made the fourth-year quarterback silence his critics.
Many of you are familiar with the work I’ve done on Mariota’s pocket movement in the past: His reputation is as a running quarterback when in actuality he’s at his best moving around the pocket. This was certainly highlighted on Sunday.
On this 3rd and 7, Mariota is flushed out of the pocket due to blindside pressure, but manages to keep his balance and his eyes downfield. He cuts back inside the pocket, keeping his composure under pressure, and fires what should be a first down to second-year tight end Jonnu Smith. Instead, the ball is dropped—which was a common theme on Sunday—but Mariota’s pocket discipline and ability to keep the play alive are duly noted and appreciated.
In the past I’ve also compared Mariota’s style of passing to that of Tom Brady and Philip Rivers: Both quarterbacks process the field extremely quickly and have the ball out of their hands in the blink of an eye. Mariota plays similarly.
Here, Mariota showcases his ability to quickly cycle through his progressions. His first read isn’t open, so he gets through the rest of his progressions in a flash before finding an open Corey Davis—who had a massive game—on the left sideline. That Mariota is able to keep his composure despite the presence of the edge rusher on the near side shows that he doesn’t anticipate pressure and plays calmly in spite of it.
On a 3rd and short, Mariota once again keeps his composure in order to convert a first down, this time doing it against interior pressure. He recognizes the rush in time as he glides past it while resetting his feet and putting this ball in a perfect position to Corey Davis. So not only is the pocket movement beautiful, but the ball placement is excellent, allowing Davis an opportunity to get yards after the catch after converting the first down.
That’s another thing: The connection between Marcus Mariota and Corey Davis was something that was never realized until Sunday, when Davis rolled for nine catches for 161 yards and the game winning touchdown.
There’s not too much to say about this rainbow to Davis, but it shows how accurate Mariota has become as a downfield passer (he was one of the more accurate deep passers in the 2017-18 Deep Ball Project). The trajectory of this ball is sublime and it’s dropped right into Davis’ breadbasket.
Incredibly, the Titans were able to pull this win off despite five drops from the receivers. None proved more near costly than this drop from Darius Jennings on another rainbow from Mariota. Fortunately, Tennessee was able to eventually score on this anxiety inducing drive, which included three fourth down conversions—one of which was aided by a defensive pass interference penalty.
This initially looks like awful coverage from safety Corey Graham, and it is as it allows Taiwan Taylor a nice, wide open spot to convert a 4th and 15 in overtime.
From another angle, however, it would seem that Graham became the latest victim of Mariota’s eye manipulation.
If you look a little closely, you’ll see that where Mariota is looking as he sets to fire the ball isn’t where he’s actually firing the ball. His eyes keep Graham in check, exploiting him and fitting this one in on the sideline to Taylor for a massive fourth down conversion. This is another reason I say that Mariota is at his best as a pocket passer: He’s one of the best quarterbacks at manipulating the secondary with his eyes, and under Matt LaFleur it seems it’s becoming more and more realized.
Eventually, Mariota was able to throw the game winning touchdown to—who else—Davis to give the Titans a 3-1 start to the season.
Beyond Mike Vrabel’s aggressive mindset on fourth downs in overtime to play for the win and Matt LaFleur’s ability to give his quarterback a scheme that actually makes sense, Marcus Mariota was the most comfortable he’s been all season, maybe in the last two years. His interception was a bad throw, but he was otherwise fantastic on the day, constantly making precise passes and pocket adjustments under pressure.
The receiving corps is still a concern, but Davis’ big day was a nice sign, so hopefully he’ll be able to continue being reliable for Mariota. Still, with LaFleur at the helm and Vrabel doing nice work in his first four games as head coach, Mariota easily has the best surrounding cast he’s ever had. And as he’s getting healthier and going into Week 5 coming off a phenomenal performance, Titans fans definitely have to be pleased at the start to the season.