Of all the Titans games I’ve covered since joining the Music City Miracles staff, this was by far the worst. On the offensive side of things this was a team that had looked like it had zero interest in executing plays or calling plays that helped out the skill players. This was a night that showed just how inconsistent Tennessee has been in the Mike Vrabel era.
On a related note, this was the absolute lowest I’ve seen Marcus Mariota play. This was a quarterback that looked like he had lost all of his confidence and had very little of the talents that he showed off earlier in his career. On an individual level, this was a disaster of a performance from the fifth-year starter.
Mariota completed under 58% of his passes for 304 yards, but even the box score looks too favorable in this case. He was constantly missing throws, missing reads, and contributed to a letdown performance for a free falling Titans offense.
Personally I’ve felt that Mariota has been on a cold streak since his excellent performance against the Patriots last season. He’s had one good game since then (Monday Night Football in 2018 at Houston) and a bunch of bad ones. Last Thursday was no exception, and it was without a doubt one of if not his worst performances in the NFL.
So with that said I figured I’d talk in length about what went wrong for Mariota and the Titans offense on a night where the defense only gave up 20 points.
Right away I had an eerie feeling this would be one of those games from Mariota, and he continued to miss throws to open receivers in this one. This miss comes on a zone blocking play. Tight end Jonnu Smith is schemed open when the play fake holds Myles Jack (#44), though the four-man rush Jacksonville sends swarms the quarterback as he prepares to throw.
Even with the pressure in mind, this should be easy enough to complete, even if it would only go for five yards. This miss—among others—has shown just how far Mariota’s precision has fallen in recent games, as he sails this too high for Smith.
The Titans allowed 14 quarterback hits last Thursday, the most allowed from any team in Week 3. Plays such as this one highlighted the amount of pressure Mariota was under as well as how faulty the offensive line has been to start the season.
Mariota, however, is not off the hook on this play.
Circled in red is Delanie Walker, crossing the middle of the field. Taven Bryan and Calais Campbell (the latter of which you’ll hear a lot from in this article I assure you) swarm Mariota, forcing him outside the pocket. Personally, I argue Mariota missed an opportunity to throw this to Walker, as he seemed open enough.
Maybe it’s just me, but the anticipation we’ve come to expect from Mariota over the years, to me, just wasn’t there on this play.
Mariota tosses this one away for an incompletion. Whether or not you feel he should have thrown this to Walker, I think we can all agree we did not expect Taven Bryan of all pass rushers to put the heat on Marcus (though to be fair he’s flashed in his second season).
The misses kept coming, as illustrated on this throw in the area of Adam Humphries on a bubble screen. I’m not sure how many yards this could have went for considering there are two defensive backs in the area (with a wideout blocking for Humphries) but Mariota has to give his guy a chance for yards after the catch regardless. Not much else to say about this, so let’s move forward.
Not all is hopeless, as Mariota did manage to get this rainbow to Tajae Sharpe in the second half. Bussin With The Boys guest star Jalen Ramsey is covering Sharpe on this play, and Sharpe runs a nice crisp go route to get by the young corner. The pocket holds up (by some miracle) for Mariota, who gives his receiver a great throw on a chunk play.
The drive, however, would not end as well as it started, not even close.
In addition to zero touchdowns Mariota also went without throwing an interception, but on this red zone possession he was lucky to escape that possibility. Let’s let the photos below take it away from here.
So, how does it all look in full motion? Let’s find out.
This looks to be under thrown, as I felt Mariota could have led Delanie Walker more to the back of the end zone as to avoid the wrath of Ronnie Harrison. When you get right down to it, however, he was fortunate to walk away from this snap without a turnover on his stat sheet.
You’re not going to believe this, but the problems for Mariota and the passing offense continued as the game progressed. And this play was a blatant example.
You could say either one of Mariota or Sharpe were to blame for this. On one hand Mariota was expecting Sharpe to break toward the sideline as indicated by the placement of this pass, but on the other hand Sharpe was wide open racing outside the numbers. I’m not totally confident in my pick, but if I had to guess I’d say the quarterback was to blame here.
Don’t groan just yet, because we’ve another positive Mariota play to show off, and this time it’s against pressure on third down.
The catalyst for the Jaguars defense is Calais Campbell yet again, and he almost gets to Mariota. But the quarterback remains calm in the pocket, making a nice pressure pass to Delanie Walker for the third down conversion.
This was already a lot to cover, but there’s more. You may have noticed that Mariota got sacked a measly nine times by a Jaguars defense that had four coming into the game. Since we’re already in this deep let’s breakdown every single sack right now.
Sack #1 (Calais Campbell, 15:00 2nd Quarter)
The true pain began on the very first play of the second quarter, and it sure didn’t get any easier from there. On a 3rd and 24 the Titans were attempting to get into better field goal range on an attempted bubble screen, except that never came to fruition.
And insert clip.
There appears to be miscommunication on the right side of the Titans offensive line, but the presence of D.J. Hayden (blitzing outside) is what prevents Mariota from pulling the trigger here. And as Calais Campbell pounds the quarterback into the turf Tennessee finds themselves in a 4th and 30 situation, completely out of field goal range.
Sack #2 (Marcell Dareus and Leon Jacobs, 15:00 3rd Quarter)
The Titans only allowed one sack in the entire first half, but whatever optimism the offense had ended immediately on the very first play from scrimmage in the second half. Campbell again is the mastermind behind this play, going up against Rodger Saffold, who has been a disappointment at left guard thus far this season.
Campbell doesn’t get the sack on this play but his ability to win against Saffold creates an opening, allowing Marcell Dareus and Leon Jacobs to finish the job.
Sack #3 (Calais Campbell, 11:31 3rd Quarter)
The call to go for it on this 4th down was heavily scrutinized, but I personally didn’t mind the decision. At the time the TItans were down 14-0 with an offense that throughout the entire first half did absolutely nothing to threaten the red zone, so making this a one-score game was mandatory at this point.
What I did mind was the play call Arthur Smith drew up. Smith has been extremely lackluster as a play caller this season, doing very little to give space to receivers and drawing up bland, uninventive route combinations. On a fourth down this didn’t change at all.
Observe the pretty rainbow arrows below as they explain what happened on this play.
It’s no secret Jamil Douglas had a rough outing against the Jaguars filling in for the injured Kevin Pamphile, and this was one of those rough snaps. With zero spacing from any of the routes and pressure coming from Campbell right out the gate this 4th and 6 play is shut down immediately as the ageless wonder takes Mariota down for the sack to turn the ball over on downs.
Sack #4 (Dawuane Smoot, 5:59 3rd Quarter)
This is a play where the result appeared to be more on Mariota for a change of pace. He practically runs into the pressure here, while missing another opportunity to pull the trigger down the field.
Yeah this stings and it stings real bad.
I’m really confused as to why Mariota would not let this ball. The lighting makes it impossible to see the jersey number, but this appears to be Corey Davis crossing the middle of the field. This is just a late read from the quarterback and there’s no excuse to be this rattled by pressure.
Sack #5 (Josh Allen, 1:47 3rd Quarter)
This time we get a brutal outing from right tackle Jack Conklin as he goes up against Not Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen. It also doesn’t help that there’s very little effort to space the route combinations as they all seem to be vertical curl routes without any rhyme of reason.
And it’s not like Mariota had any time to make something happen on the fly either as Conklin gets bodied by Allen who does the same to Mariota, resulting in sack #5 on the night and the fourth from the third quarter alone.
Sack #6 (Calais Campbell, 14:09 4th Quarter)
In case you’re wondering, Campbell had three sacks and five quarterback hits on the night. What a machine.
Anyways Josh Allen creates edge pressure going up against Conklin, and the stunt against the Titans left offensive line further complicates things for Mariota. He appeared to have a receiver open on an out route towards the left sideline and a receiver open about to cross the middle, but couldn’t bring himself to release this pass. Campbell delivers yet again, big shock.
Sack #7 (Taven Bryan, 6:10 4th Quarter)
Having all of your receivers run on the right side of the field is bold thinking, though a pick play appears to have Adam Humphries completely open. Unfortunately, Mariota doesn’t see him, so Taven Bryan tears apart Dennis Kelly to meet Mariota for the 7th sack of the night. I might be too harsh here, but this is a 2nd and 19, you can still move the ball closer to set yourselves up for a better third down spot. Mariota has to see Humphries here.
Sack #8 (Josh Allen, 5:23 4th Quarter)
The Jaguars had three guys with multiple sacks on the night, with the rookie out of Kentucky being one of them. There’s really not much Mariota can do here with the route spacing just appears to be going through the motions, though on 3rd and 24 that’s asking a lot against a talented defense.
What’s infuriating about this play, however, is that Conklin gives up the sack despite still getting help from Walker. It’s been a heavy decline for the right tackle since his rookie season, so seeing plays like this is brutal for evaluating the Titans offensive line.
Sack #9 (Dawuane Smoot, 2:21 4th Quarter)
Finally we come to the last sack of the game, and it comes from third-year defensive end Dawuane Smoot for his second against the Titans. This comes on a first and 10, and by this point the game is over considering this is where the offense took forever to get plays going while also killing a lot of clock at the same time.
Tennesse’s interior line gets beat by another stunt and Smoot becomes the third Jaguar to get multiple sacks on the night. But at least the Titans once again prevented Yannick Ngakoue from getting any sacks or hits on Mariota, so there is that.
In conclusion, Mariota was a major problem in this game and has been a major problem this season, but he wasn’t alone. The combined awful pass protection and predictable play calling have also aided the offense’s attack on what have been real good performances from the Titans defense, and Arthur Smith’s scheme has a lot more questions than answers at this point.
Even so, this is not the kind of start Titans fans envisioned from Mariota entering a contract year. It’s come to the point where many are calling for Ryan Tannehill to start, and frankly I don’t blame those people. And unless he lights a fire and turns things around quickly, it’s also looking unlikely that Mariota remains in Nashville after 2019.
This isn’t easy for me to say as someone who admired much of his play. His ability to quickly cycle through his reads and his constantly improving downfield accuracy have both been fun to watch for years, but those strengths aren’t apparent this season. What’s more devastating is Mariota has transcended these kinds of situations in the past, playing well under pressure and fitting the ball into tight windows with ease.
I’m not sure if injuries are effecting him or he’s just straight up rattled, but this is far from the version of Marcus Mariota many Titans fans rallied behind as he came to Tennessee, and this offensive line and scheme offer virtually nothing to try and make things easier on him. A lot of work has to be done if the Titans want to put this behind for good and it has to be done fast.