This week’s edition of Keeping Up With Marcus Mariota is a little late, but that’s okay considering the Titans have a bye this week.
The Titans lost another close game—this time to the Chargers—to ultimately relinquish first place in the AFC South to the Houston Texans while falling to 3-4. After riding a three-game winning streak, Tennessee is on a three-game losing streak that leaves fans with more questions than answers going into the bye.
Marcus Mariota completed 75% of his passes (24/32) against the Chargers for 237 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a 92.8 passer rating. While he’s been taking heat from across the NFL circle—even from Titans fans—I don’t think he’s generally been the problem for this offense in 2018. Sure he’s had his bad moments, but in a conservative passing game with no consistent threat at receiver, it’s been a rough grind for the fourth-year starter.
Let’s take a look at a few “highlight” moments from Sunday’s game:
Mariota’s streak of zero red zone interceptions came to an end in London (the streak in America is still alive), as Melvin Ingram tipped this pass into Denzel Perryman’s arms for the pick. Mariota releases this pass just as he gets his head up from the jet sweep fake, so my guess here is that he’s expecting Ingram to rush instead of hesitate and play the pass. He got lucky earlier in the game when Ingram dropped a line drive pass into his chest, but couldn’t get away with it twice.
Either way, this pass is picked off on a rare red zone interception from Mariota. Outside of that, however, Mariota was pretty accurate throughout the game and suffered with two massive drops on the same drive.
The first massive drop came from Taywan Taylor, who has become a complete liability as a pass catcher anywhere but underneath on a screen. Mariota does a great job reacting to the edge pressure in time, climbing up, resetting himself and firing a great throw to Taylor only to watch it go through his hands for an incomplete pass.
The Titans receivers, much like the Colts with Andrew Luck, owe Mariota for a lot of drops that have occurred this season. Another example comes from Corey Davis a few plays after Taylor’s drop.
Corey Davis is easily one of the most frustrating #1 wide receivers in the league. Creating separation is no problem from here, as shown here where he runs a nice route. It’s his lack of timing and failure to be on the same page with Mariota that have made him so bad in his sophomore season.
What Davis does here on 3rd and 7 is inexcusable. For reasons only known to Davis, he tries catching this ball with one hand despite it not being close to being warranted. The Titans are down 20-13 with 8:30 left in regulation as this occurs, and managed to get zero points on this drive as Ryan Succop’s ensuing field goal attempt went wide right.
Again the route by Davis is great, but his timing is horrendous. Davis had a rough rookie year, but I expected him to flash a lot more this season due to his talent. It only happened once against the Eagles and has never popped up again.
It’s easy to blame Mariota for the struggles on Tennessee’s offense with his low placement in both raw stats and analytics. I happen to be a heavy investor in analytics, as they are a phenomenal tool to use to figure out the best and worst at the statistic for players at said position.
With that said, the problem with the use of analytics isn’t the tool itself, but how people use it. Like I said, analytics are a phenomenal tool, but the criticism of Mariota for low yards per attempt and more touchdowns than interceptions, to me, comes without much context. Not a lot is mentioned of how Mariota is playing and instead the criticism becomes how he’s playing statistically.
To me, these analytics need to be combined with context in order to get it, though I respect people’s opinions on the matter regardless. From my perspective, what was supposed to be a friendlier offense from new coordinator Matt LaFleur has turned into a conservative, weak attack without much of a plan. The guard play has been pretty poor this season, and the lack of consistent threats at wide receiver (hopefully Tajae Sharpe changes that) makes it extremely easy for defenses to attack Tennessee without fear.
But Mariota has been accurate this season in a bad situation over the Titans’ last three games. Outside of the Ravens game where he was sacked 11 times, he’s been a poised pocket passer and has been consistently sharp with his throws. If someone happens to feel otherwise, that’s fine. I’m just offering my perspective on the matter.
Going into the bye, the Titans face far more problems than solutions on offense, but Marcus Mariota is not one of their problems.