In this game, Marcus Mariota threw his 5th interception of the season. If you don’t know how this works by now, I suggest reading the below previous articles:
- Breaking Down Every Marcus Mariota Interception from 2017: Introduction
- Breaking Down Every Marcus Mariota Interception from 2017: #1 (at JAX)
- Breaking Down Every Marcus Mariota Interception from 2017: #2 (at HOU)
- Breaking Down Every Marcus Mariota Interception from 2017: #3 (at HOU)
- Breaking Down Every Marcus Mariota Interception from 2017: #4 (vs IND)
After limiting the Ravens offense for most of the day, the Titans got the ball back at the start of the fourth quarter with a chance to ice the game away.
Nursing a 16-6 lead with 12:03 left to play, the Titans faced a 3rd-and-4 from their own 40-yard line.
The Titans had a chance to essentially wrap up a victory with a score on this drive. Instead, they gave the ball back to the Ravens, and with it, new life in this game.
Six plays later, the Ravens cut the lead to 3 with a touchdown.
The Titans come out in a formation very similar to the trips bunch we saw twice in the Houston Texans interceptions, in 11 personnel, but this time, the formation is flipped (likely due to the ball being placed on the opposite hashmarks).
This tight formation draws the Ravens defense in close to the line of scrimmage before the snap, signaling the man-to-man coverage Mariota will see as soon as he hikes the ball.
Perhaps you’ll recall from Interceptions #2 and #3 that the Texans came out with 7 defenders at or near the line of scrimmage but only rushed four.
Here, the Ravens do something similar with 8 guys at or near the line before the snap, and only rush three of them. But by showing 8, they can create confusion along the line.
The appropriate way to punish a team for loading the box like this is to hit them with a play-action fake and throw it deep.
So naturally, the Titans only send one player on anything close to a deep pattern and run everything else within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
The Titans have a zone-beater Smash-7 to the right between Davis and Matthews. Underneath, they are running a man-beater mesh concept with Decker and Walker. Murray is a dump-off option leaking out to the left.
The idea with a combo man/zone-beater is for the quarterback to quickly diagnose the coverage, either pre- or post-snap, and then make his reads based on what he sees.
As is to be expected based on the coverage calls, the play is extremely well defended.
Since Matthews is the only player running downfield, the safety picks him up in a double-team and that option is easily covered by the Ravens. The mesh concept underneath results in three Ravens following Eric Decker across the field with a shell of players surrounding Delanie Walker, as well.
Corey Davis looks like he’s about to pop open against single-coverage, but it takes him too long to complete his route. By the time he has separation, Mariota is already releasing the ball. And DeMarco Murray is not alone as he leaks out of the backfield.
What Went Wrong
The read progression on this play makes no sense to me. It appears to be a basic right-to-left read - you can see Mariota look first to the outside in Davis’s direction. My guess is the read is concerned with the cornerback’s technique - if he is playing off and backpedaling in Davis’s route stem, Mariota would likely try to hit Davis on the curl.
But Davis is met with tight press coverage, so Mariota moves onto Rishard Matthews, who is running downfield in the stem of his corner route.
What’s confusing about the read progression is that Mariota starts on Corey Davis and then moves to Rishard Matthews. If this was meant to be a zone-beater Smash-7 concept, Mariota should first read the “high” (Matthews) and then move to the “low” (Davis) if the curl/flat corner drops to defend Matthews. Of course, this entire concept is irrelevant on this particular play because the Ravens are in man coverage.
Perhaps that is why the progression moves right to left, but what is strange about it is that Mariota never looks at either of the two players running a man-beater concept across the middle of the field underneath, Eric Decker and Delanie Walker.
My assumption is that Mariota saw Matthews running downfield with the defender’s back facing him and simply didn’t see the free safety coming across the field.
Unfortunately, Eric Weddle was very ready for the pass that Mariota threw, and was there to easily intercept the ball. It does appear that Rishard Matthews is briefly held, but it may have only slightly impacted his ability to prevent the turnover.
Mechanically speaking, Mariota does a nice job with his footwork on this throw with a very clean pocket around him. The decision to throw it, however, was extremely poor.
While Mularkey wasn’t asked directly about the play and what led to the interception, he did comment on Mariota’s response to the pick.
Mariota made a huge mistake on this play, but he did come back after the Ravens score to throw a touchdown pass and re-take a 10-point lead over Baltimore with just 3:58 to play.
(on if throwing an interception was a ‘gut check’ for Marcus Mariota)
If he’s throws a pick, he’s going to come back and throw balls. He’s not flustered. He doesn’t let things like that affect him, that’s one thing about him. It never has. He’s always responded to a pick with positive plays afterwards.
Responding after an interception was a common theme of Mariota’s throughout the season. The only games in which he didn’t come back on the field and lead his team to a scoring (or even game-winning) drive were against Houston, Pittsburgh, and Arizona.
What Mariota Should Have Done
Perhaps you’ve noticed by now where Marcus Mariota should have gone with the football.
The crossing routes run by Eric Decker and Delanie Walker create enough confusion and spacing that Walker ends up running free. He smartly slows his route as he approaches the middle of the field, aware of the linebacker covering the area to where Delanie’s route will carry him. Rather than run into coverage, Walker wisely sits in the hole just short of the first down marker. Sadly, Mariota did not see him and missed an easy throw that Walker could’ve carried over the line to gain.
The biggest concern I have with this interception is that Mariota should’ve known where to go with the ball based purely on the defensive coverage. Although Corey Davis’s route would’ve been better served had he been split out wide to start, overall, the playcall works well to beat whichever coverage, man or zone, the Ravens had decided to run.
The Ravens go with man coverage, yet Mariota never looks at the routes that are specifically designed to attack that defense.
Further, Mariota should know that he only has one receiver running downfield anywhere near the single-high free safety. If that safety drops at all, why would you test him, especially with a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter?
So is Mariota not being coached to read the coverage, or is he simply failing to recognize man vs zone?
This is something we’ll explore in the next breakdown...