Here at Music City Miracles, we love Marcus Mariota. He’s dealt with bad offensive schemes, he’s overcome various injuries, and he has an upset postseason win against the Chiefs in his resume.
He may have thrown 13 touchdowns to 15 interceptions, but Mariota was still a huge reason why the Titans went back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The only thing working for him on offense was that the pass protection was good; The scheme and play calling were atrocious, the receivers couldn’t constantly create separation (and even when they did, there were drops galore), and the Titans had the audacity to keep DeMarco Murray as the starter over Derrick Henry when it was clear Henry was the superior back.
The stats don’t show it, but Mariota carried the Titans to the playoffs when their performances showed they weren’t close to it. His accuracy was phenomenal, and he also grew as a downfield passer. And with a new offensive coordinator (Matt LaFleur) that promises to run more versatile offense, we could see similar stats to 2016 once again.
With that said, what were the most memorable plays Marcus Mariota made in his junior season in the NFL? These may not always be the absolute best plays Mariota has made, but they’re the ones that stick out in Titans fans’ heads when his name comes up.
I happen to have five ready to go, so let’s look at what I consider to be Marcus Mariota’s five most memorable plays from the 2017 season (NOTE: These are not in any order of most or least memorable.)
1. 37-yard dime to Delanie Walker against quadruple coverage
Could this be the best throw of Mariota’s career to date? Perhaps. What we can all agree on, however, is that this is a throw not of mortal being.
The Titans are running a 13-personnel package on this play, with an RB in the backfield, three tight ends (Delanie Walker and Phillip Supernaw as receivers, and Jonnu Smith, staying back to block) and Corey Davis lined up as the Z receiver. The Colts utilize Cover 1, while Tennessee uses a 7-man protection scheme.
The Colts defense plays this really well. Because the routes the Titans draw up are so isolated, it requires Mariota to throw a perfect downfield pass (there’s no underneath option) into an insane tight window if any opening occurs. This should be an incomplete pass without hesitation.
Mariota does just that. This sums up how Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie suffocated Mariota. They didn’t suffocate him by constantly allowing him to get hit—the offensive line was still good—but they didn’t offer any creative route combinations or mismatches to get receivers open, meaning that Mariota had a tiny margin for error.
That’s why this throw is insane. Mariota leads Delanie Walker just enough where he doesn’t have to adjust and get killed by four defensive backs. This pass is in stride and sums up how accurate of a quarterback Mariota is.
2. Game winning run against Jacksonville
I’m of the opinion that Mariota is at his best as a pocket passer, but as a runner, he certainly has provided Titans fans with many highlights.
Few were as big as his game sealing run in Week 17 against Jacksonville, helping secure a playoff spot for the Titans.
Here, on 3rd down, the Jaguars utilize a simple four-man rush, man coverage outside, and zone coverage inside. The receivers can’t create any separation, and Mariota has to escape the pocket to avoid the edge pressure from the blind side.
What Mariota does next can’t be described in words, but I’ll try anyway. After climbing out of the pocket, he eludes the defensive tackle (#93), cuts back outside, then gloriously stiff arms Barry Church, clearing the path for a first down and a playoff birth ahead of him.
3. Touchdown pass.....to himself
You knew this had to be on here. This bizarre series of events sparked the incredible 21-3 comeback against the Chiefs, where the Titans scored 19 unanswered points in the second half. Brad Johnson is the only other quarterback to throw a touchdown pass to himself (doing it in 1997), but Mariota is the first ever quarterback to do it in a playoff game.
Let’s look at another angle of the play.
Here, the Chiefs utilize Cover 0. The Chiefs defense recognize the switch routes and prevent any receivers from getting open. Because of this, Mariota runs around the pocket, buying time until he’s forced to run outside left. He attempts to throw to Corey Davis, and instead of picking the pass off, Darrelle Revis point shaves on national television by batting the ball back to Mariota, who catches it and dives for the end for an improbable touchdown.
Considering Mariota’s interception luck was brutal last year (rarely had a dropped interception), this was some incredible fortune.
4. Go ahead touchdown to Eric Decker against the Chiefs
On the prior play, Mariota badly missed a wide open Corey Davis, who was all alone running to the end zone. If not for what followed, his reputation could’ve taken a bigger hit.
The Titans run a 3 wide receiver set on this play, with Eric Decker running a simple go route and the other two receivers running switch routes. What makes this play work is that Mariota looks off the top safety, stalling him enough to give Decker an open window to catch the ball. What follows is a touchdown grab from Decker that stuns Arrowhead Stadium as Tennessee takes a 22-21 lead.
5. Block on Frank Zombo to clinch a spot in the Divisional Round
Mariota’s had a few memorable plays outside of the traditional realm of passing, hasn’t he?
On this play, the Titans run a zone blocking scheme on what is originally a designed run to the right. When Derrick Henry can’t find a hole, he cuts outside left, putting him in the path of linebacker Frank Zombo. With Mariota in front of him, Zombo attempts to get around the quarterback turned blocker, but Mariota shoves Zombo, clearing a path for Derrick Henry to seal the upset playoff victory in Tennessee’s favor for good.
As you can see, Marcus Mariota was a huge reason why the Titans clinched a playoff birth and a postseason victory on the road. With that in mind, what plays from the fourth year quarterback stood out to you in 2017?