Titans QB Marcus Mariota is set for his fourth regular season opener on Sunday in Miami.
His level of comfort in OC Matt LaFleur’s offense will be on display against the Dolphins defense. Mariota must lean on built rapport with Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews, and trust in newly develop(ing) chemistry with second year receiving weapons Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith.
Mariota will also explore options with Dion Lewis as a receiving back, and have confidence that both Lewis and Derrick Henry can impose their will on the ground.
With weapons in place and the trust of LaFleur and HC Mike Vrabel, Mariota could find the spark he had the last time he kicked off the season in Florida.
What do the numbers suggest?
The fourth year quarterback is currently holds a 1-2 win/loss record, with his only win coming during his rookie season. The past two years, Mariota and the Titans were unable to earn wins against the Minnesota Vikings (2016) and Oakland Raiders (2017).
Both the Vikings and Raiders had much better defensive units than the 2015 Buccaneers. The Dolphins defense have players along the defensive line that can be disruptive and some underrated cornerbacks.
However, the absence of Ndamukong Suh benefits the Titans offensive line.
He’s been sacked five times for a loss of 44 total yards. With some uncertainty at the right tackle position, it will be interesting to see how the Titans offensive line handles the Miami pass rush - especially on the right side.
For Mariota to hit .500 on season openers, he must depend on his offensive line to buy him time and keep the pressure to a minimum. As I mentioned in a previous post, establishing the run while setting the tempo is a delicate balance that the Titans must strive to achieve. The bulk hinges on the play in the trenches.
Mariota regular season opener averages are promising. He maintains a 64.9% completion rate and has thrown for 736 yards. He’s thrown six touchdowns in week one, but four were in his debut against Tampa Bay.
The Titans receivers struggled to separate against Oakland last season and Mariota failed to throw a touchdown. He did make some nice throws, but there was some obvious miscommunication with the receivers that eliminated some offensive opportunities. Mariota didn’t play a snap with his receiving corps at full strength. That may create some hiccups early against Miami.
Hiccups early are ok and can be weathered throughout the came. However, hiccups that translate to turnovers could be problematic and often times are the difference in wins and losses.
Mariota has only thrown one interception in regular season openers but also has one lost fumble, totaling two turnovers. The fumble against the Vikings resulted in a Danielle Hunter touchdown that weighed heavily in a game decided by nine points.
Using his Intangibles
Mariota has used his legs to gain yards and put points on the board in the season openers. He’s toted the rock nine times for 51 yards and one touchdown, averaging roughly 5.5 yards per carry.
In LaFleur’s offense, the overall design will feature a lot of Mariota on the move. Mariota has to run with confidence - a confidence that was shaky last season due to coming off a major injury.
The Titans do not want to compromise Mariota’s health as the team’s season success correlates to Mariota not missing time due to injury. Implementing a lot of RPO’s, play-action, bootlegs and designed quarterback keepers will be meticulously used.
For the Titans to board the plane from Miami with a win, Mariota will have to run and make plays with his legs. It’s a fact. Mariota has to find his groove in the offense and avoid hesitation when his instincts are telling him to run. He’s proven in the past few season that he knows when to slide and avoid taking the big hit. Expect he will use the same level of caution when on the move.
Mariota knows how valuable he is to this offense - and to the team. He won’t jeopardize his health for a few extra yards.