With the two-week break leading up to the Super Bowl, I usually like to take this time to start charting for what I like to call The Deep Ball Project. Founded by me in 2014, The Deep Ball Project—as its name suggests—takes a look at the stats from a quarterback throwing the ball down the field. In previous seasons, the minimum requirement was 16 air yards. For this season, it’s now 21.
The main goal of this project is to look at how accurate quarterbacks are at throwing the ball down the field, regardless of whether the pass is completed or not. To help explain this, I created “Accurate Incompletions”, which look at accurate passes that were dropped or couldn’t be hauled in, and “Inaccurate Completions”, which look at completed passes where the pass wasn’t exactly accurate but the receiver made an outstanding (yet unnecessary) adjustment. Therefore, completed passes are different from accurate passes.
That brings us to today at Music City Miracles. Marcus Mariota’s availability in 2018 was all over the place due to numerous setbacks, but that’s not what we’re looking at this time. We’re looking at how he did throwing the ball down the field.
Now, many Titans fans found Mariota’s deep ball in his first two seasons—particularly 2016—to be pretty good, but I personally thought it was average in both years. Mariota, to me, really felt at home in the short/intermediate passing games, similar to Tom Brady.
In 2017, however, Mariota’s downfield accuracy took a gigantic step up. In spite of an offense with a limited scheme and an ineffective, inexperienced group of receivers, Mariota’s deep accuracy was outstanding, as his 62.4 accuracy percentage finished second among all quarterbacks on all throws of 16+ air yards.
For more, let’s look at how Mariota’s accuracy percentages turned out in his first four years in the NFL, according to The Deep Ball Project.
Mariota’s growth as a passer can be highlighted by his growth as a deep ball passer. The leap he took in 2017 in spite of his overall raw stats was incredible. And in 2018, even with the setbacks due to injury, his accuracy on throws of 16+ air yards was remarkable.
(My bad if the image is too small.)
Highlighting some key stats from above, ACC/ATT looks at accurate passes out of the amount of attempts. As you may have noticed, the amount of accurate passes (29) is different from the amount of completed passes (23). The Accurate Incompletion (ACC INCMP) and Inaccurate Completion (INACC CMP) stats are also on here as well, as is Passes Defensed (PD), which looks at the combined total amount of pass break ups, dropped interceptions, and interceptions.
But with this year’s edition of The Deep Ball Project—which is about 1⁄4 complete as of this writing—only throws of at least 21 air yards will qualify. So with this in mind, let’s take a look at Marcus Mariota’s chart for all throws of 21 air yards.
Now, Mariota’s 50.0% accuracy on throws into Tight Windows (T. Windows) actually isn’t far off from his 50.7% accuracy in 2017, which ranked fifth among all quarterbacks. This is incredible considering last year’s ranking included throws of 16-20 air yards. His accuracy into Open Windows (O. Windows, 58.33%) is glaring, and is a giant step down from his 92.3% accuracy percentages in that area in 2017. His 37.5% accuracy percentage against pressure is a significant downgrade from his 71.4% percentage in 2017, which ranked second.
Still, his accuracy overall looks pretty solid, and his accuracy on throws of 41+ yards (66.67%) in particular stands out. 16.57% of his passing yards resulted in yards after the catch, and no I don’t know where that ranks yet until I chart every quarterback.
So even with several bad misses, Mariota’s downfield accuracy looked fine to me. I’m told Pro Football Focus said he was the most accurate downfield passer of 2018, though my numbers obviously differ from there’s.
Anyway, to wrap things up, let’s look at a couple of Mariota’s downfield throws and briefly talk about them.
Here’s a shocking development: The Titans still need to upgrade the receiving corps. The injury to Delanie Walker exposed how limited the group of receivers is, as Corey Davis was the only guy to consistently step up.
This throw from Mariota to Tajae Sharpe resulted in an Accurate Incompletion, something that benefits Mariota’s accuracy percentage. The window the quarterback is given is extremely small, and while this is a tough catch to make, Mariota gave Sharpe a reasonable opportunity to make a play without the cornerback disrupting the pass.
Based on where Sharpe is at the catch point, this probably wouldn’t have been a touchdown, but if he catches it and controls the ball as he hits the ground, it would’ve been right on the goal line. Sadly, Sharpe can’t make the play, resulting in an incompletion.
This time, not only is this pass caught, but it’s also caught for a touchdown by (guess who) Corey Davis. Davis’ development in his sophomore season was massive for the Titans, as he gives them a quality building block and one less hole to fill when fixing the receiving corps.
This throw from Mariota is straight up perfect. Stephon Gilmore, arguably the best corner in 2018, plays zone against Davis, and Mariota launches the ball once Davis completes his in break. Like the previous throw, the window is tiny, but Mariota leads Davis just far enough where he’s able to make a clean play on the ball and collects himself a touchdown. It’s a dime from the quarterback.
Things definitely could’ve gotten better for Marcus Mariota in his fourth season, but his deep passing ability has grown throughout the course of his career, going from a work in progress to a strength of his. His durability and availability have been the only things truly holding him back in the NFL, as he has displayed the accuracy and pocket presence required to play the position at full health.
Either way, Mariota has proven himself to be worthy as a downfield passer, now he just needs to work on staying on the field.