A win would mean the franchise’s first four-game winning streak since 2009.
In this game, Marcus Mariota threw his 6th interception of the 2017 season.
If you haven’t read any of the previous breakdowns, I suggest spending a little time at the below links before continuing with this article.
- 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)
- Breaking Down Every Marcus Mariota Interception from 2017: #5 (vs BAL)
Tennessee opened the game with a 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive. A couple of possessions later, the offense managed to go 69 yards on 11 plays, but Succop missed a field goal try. One more first-half touchdown drive extended the Titans lead to 14-6.
It seemed like the offense was finally starting to find their rhythm in this contest. Mariota opened the game 9/12 for 94 yards passing and added a couple of big runs with some nice reads/option pitches.
After recovering a botched Bengals snap at the Tennessee 13-yard line, the Titans took possession with 1:56 remaining in the first half riding a red-hot start to the game.
Marcus Mariota was looking as dialed-in as he had at any point thus far this season and appeared ready to march the team down for another score before halftime.
It took just one play to completely flip the script of this game.
Running their next play from the 3-yard line, the Bengals managed to punch it into the end zone to make the score 14-13.
In their two-minute offense, the Titans came out with a Shotgun Doubles formation in 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end). I’ll admit to a certain amount of guess work with this particular playcall, because I suspect that the receivers on the left of the formation did not run the correct route combination.
I’ve drawn the routes the way they played out. I suspect they were trying some type of rub between Eric Decker and Corey Davis on the left side, trying to free up Davis on the post route.
If I’m correct in my diagnosis, I believe the idea was to have a man-beater concept on the left combined with a zone-beater on the right. Just like we saw in the previous interception against Baltimore, with combo man/zone-beaters, the quarterback must determine first if the opponent is in man or zone coverage and then determine the read from there.
The Bengals run a very standard Cover 2 Zone in a 4-2 nickel set, which plays right into the hands of the Titans’ playcall.
The Titans’ zone-beater route combination is to the right side of the formation, so naturally, Mariota takes the snap, looks left, stays left, and throws into coverage.
What Went Wrong
To be quite honest, this is one of the worst throws of Mariota’s young career.
The Bengals make no attempts to disguise their Cover 2 defense. It’s clear and obvious, both before the snap and after.
Yet Mariota’s attention never diverts from the left side of the field, where two receivers are running less than four yards apart for the majority of the play.
What Mariota Should Have Done
Meanwhile, on the other side of the formation, the Titans zone-beater concept works to perfection. Rishard Matthews runs a deep curl, which both pulls the cornerback away from the flat and, by not running too deep, keeps that corner’s attention away from Delanie Walker.
Walker backfills the zone recently vacated by Matthews, and with no defenders there to pick him up, is wide open with a lane to get out of bounds quickly and stop the clock.
Walker is the clear and obvious read on this play, given the zone coverage.
I do take much exception to the route combination on the left side of the field. What in the heck are Corey Davis and Eric Decker’s routes, as ran, meant to accomplish? Aside from allowing one cornerback to cover two receivers, these routes serve no schematic purpose.
Had Eric Decker’s route instead called for him to break outside at the point where he stops and turns back to Mariota, either he would’ve carried the nickel corner with him outside and freed up an open passing lane for Davis, or he would’ve been wide open coming out of his break.
Instead, neither player is open, and yet for some bizarre reason, Mariota only has eyes for Davis on this play.
It’s quite unclear to me what Mariota was expecting to happen when he threw this ball. Considering the terrible route spacing, there’s absolutely no reason to attempt this pass.
If one of these the Titans’ receivers did in fact run an incorrect route, that would be even more reason to not throw the ball, which leads me to believe that perhaps the play might have actually been drawn up this way.
(You’d think if these guys were running the wrong routes that Mariota would immediately move on to his next set of reads rather than stare down and force the ball to players not executing their assignments.)
As this pass is such an uncharacteristically poor play by Marcus Mariota, from the inept recognition to the target-staredown, I admit I am looking for potential excuses. Why on earth would he make this throw?
Was it a failure by Mariota to recognize the coverage? We saw in the last breakdown Mariota failed to throw at the man-beater when faced with man coverage. This time, he fails to find the zone-beater against zone coverage.
I don’t think that Mariota has any real problems with defensive recognition. Outside of this one pass, he played an excellent game dissecting Cincinnati’s defense.
(Keep in mind there are numerous successful pass attempts occurring between each of these interception breakdowns, although in this series we only see the bad plays.)
A potential excuse for this interception is that Mariota attempted to fool the nickel cornerback, Darqueze Dennard, with some type of eye manipulation/no-look pass and failed to trick the defender.
(This is another flaw with the offensive design - let’s say Mariota was staring at Eric Decker when he let this pass fly for Davis, expecting the defender to break towards Decker at the release of the ball.
Well, Decker and Davis are running their routes so close together that no amount of eye deception could create a throwing lane. Had Davis’s route started outside the numbers, the spacing would be much more appropriate for such an attempt.)
Potential excuse number two: a certain amount of Mariota’s reads are determined (by the offensive staff) before the snap, and thus he was always going to look and throw to the left regardless of the defense.
However, at the end of the day, I think any excuse you try to make for this play is just that: an excuse. The likely reality of the situation is that Mariota just didn’t see Dennard sitting there in the passing lane but instead noticed the zone cornerback on Corey Davis’s outside hip and tried to get the ball to his receiver with inside leverage.
It’s an awful play by Mariota, and one that I count among the worst of his entire career.
Mike Mularkey wasn’t interested in elaborating on what went so wrong on this play, giving a very short-and-sweet answer when asked about it the next day.
(on what happened on the play where Marcus Mariota threw an interception)
Just some things that we’ve got to do better execution-wise, all the way around.
To me, this leaves the door open to the possibility that someone ran the wrong route, but leaves it equally likely that this play really is all on Mariota. Unfortunately for us trying to break it down now, Mike Mularkey avoided throwing anyone under the bus (for once), so we have no further information to work with.
I want to again note something that I mentioned in yesterday’s article; Mariota bounced back from interceptions with great success throughout the season, and this game was no different. After this horrible play, Mariota led the team down for a field goal before halftime to extend the lead to 17-13.
He then came back later in the game to lead what would have been another touchdown drive had Corey Davis not fumbled through the back of the end zone, and finally, when the dam eventually broke (in the form of a 70-yard A.J. Green touchdown), Mariota marched the team down the field once again and delivered the game-winning touchdown pass (with a great assist from DeMarco Murray).
So I want to emphasize that I don’t think Mariota necessarily has a problem reading defenses, he just has momentary lapses in that ability that he needs to sort out. It’s all a part of his growth into a more consistent quarterback.
You can’t place the blame on anyone but Marcus Mariota for this interception, which puts us at a whopping 6 of 6 interceptions so far where he is deserving of blame.
Will that change with Interception #7?