The Tennessee Titans are 8-5 on the season and seem destined for a playoff berth. But the team’s winning record has little to do with their offense - in particular, Marcus Mariota.
The former St. Louis standout and former Heisman Trophy winner was supposed to have a breakout season in 2017 after throwing for 3,426 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions a year ago.
Instead, he’s playing the worst football of his professional career.
Through 13 games, Mariota has thrown 2,582 yards, 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
“I expect myself to do my job, and that’s taking care of the football and converting third downs,” Mariota said via the Titans’ official team website. “And I haven’t been up to par. I have to be better.”
Only one player has thrown more interceptions this season than Mariota, and that’s Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Deshone Kizer, who was benched earlier this season and then later returned to the starting lineup for the 0-13 Browns.
In his past five games, Mariota has thrown four touchdowns along with nine interceptions. His passer rating on the season is 76.9, the sixth-worst rating in the NFL ahead of only Trevor Siemian (74.4), Brian Hoyer (74.1), Tom Savage (71.4), C.J. Beathard (69.2) and the aforementioned rookie, Kizer (61.2).
So what happened to Mariota, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft who set the world on fire during his collegiate career at the University of Oregon? For one, Mariota doesn’t look comfortable throwing the ball in the pocket.
Mariota's footwork here causes the ball to die midair. pic.twitter.com/A51BkuAmkn— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) December 11, 2017
Whether his knee injury is affecting the way he throws the ball is irrelevant when you say some of the decisions he’s making downfield.
In a 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals this past Sunday, Mariota threw for 159 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions including a head-scratching turnover on a ball that should have never been thrown in the fourth quarter of a close game.
“Frustration’s an understatement,” Mariota said post-game. “Defense played lights out, special teams did their job, I hurt our team. I got to find ways to get better and improve on … It’s on us. It’s on the offense. The defense played outstanding, they have been all year. We just haven’t been able to put the ball in the end zone and score points.”
While Mariota is struggling to throw the football, play-calling is also an issue in Tennessee. Too often are plays stuffed at the line of scrimmage, especially on quick screen passes to wideouts on the sideline.
I too can't believe Mariota's numbers are bad in an offense that gives him genius play calling. pic.twitter.com/E6fdyVd6dN— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) December 6, 2017
The film doesn’t lie when it comes to how uncreative the Titans offense has been this season, and many NFL pundits are beginning to take notice:
Infuriating watching Mularkey turn Mariota into pure vanilla with this offense while Bortles turns it loose. May be the difference in the South when it’s done.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 10, 2017
Marcus Mariota has not been good this year, but the entire offense has struggled. Play calling, run game, receivers -- they're all accountable. And don't forget he had a broken leg all offseason and a bad hamstring injury during the year. #Titans— Steve Layman (@SteveLayman) December 10, 2017
Conservative football doesn’t win games, regardless of the team’s 8-5 record thus far. To win in the postseason, the Titans offense has to make plays and that starts and ends with Mariota.
Despite Mariota’s poor performances, however, the rest of his teammates aren’t calling for change under center anytime soon:
"Marcus (Mariota) is a hell of a player. I don't want to block for any other quarterback." - Taylor Lewan pic.twitter.com/lf0fpjVEs1— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 11, 2017
Mariota has proven in his short time in the NFL that he has the talent to be a franchise quarterback, but improvements must be made moving forward if the Titans are to be considered a viable contender in the years to come.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
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