Mariota Monday: The Curious Case of Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota’s rookie season has taken a Benjamin Button type of path.

Photo by the Tennessee Journalist.

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We all know the story of Benjamin Button. He was a man born with a peculiar genetic disease that gave him the appearance of a wise old man at birth, when in reality it was a facade of infancy.

Marcus Mariota’s rookie season has taken a Benjamin Button type of path.

Mariota’s performance in week one is arguably the greatest debut for a rookie quarterback of all time. Mariota appeared poised, confident and wise beyond his years; finishing the game with four first-half touchdown passes in a 42-14 blowout over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The next four weeks were filled with rookie frustrations. Mariota did not play awful football, but after throwing four touchdown passes in a half, he threw only five touchdowns over the next four weeks. All four games were losses for the Titans. In all four games, Mariota turned the ball over in the fourth quarter. In fact, he turned the ball over nine times during that span (five interceptions, four lost fumbles).

The climax of Mariota’s struggles came in week six when the Titans lost their third consecutive home game to the Miami Dolphins 38-10. He had his worst game by far, turning the ball over four times. Even worse, Mariota sprained his MCL early in the game.

As a result, he missed the next two games, resulting in two Titan losses that saw the offense continue their downward spiral, scoring just thirteen points in both contests.

With the team record at 1-6 and on the verge of another 2-14 type season, the Titans decided to fire head coach Ken Wisenhunt and trudge forward with tight end coach Mike Mularkey.

The week nine contest against the New Orleans Saints was a fresh start of sorts. Not only did the Titans have a new coach, but Mariota was returning to action.

The result?

Mariota topped his week one performance, completing 28-of-39 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns. He even broke his fourth quarter curse, completing 15-of-17 passes and throwing for two scores in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Titans upset the Saints 34-28.

All of a sudden, the Mariota hype machine was in full swing once again. It was as if a new season had started for the team. The once deflated “Titan nation” had optimism once again.

Then they met they 8-0 Carolina Panthers.

The Titans lost 27-10. Mariota wasn’t awful (16-24 passing, 185 yards, one interception), but after another historic rookie performance, he completely underwhelmed.

So has Mariota had a great rookie season?

The stats and the eye test say absolutely not.

Mariota’s season has come down to literally two contests. In those two contests, he has looked even better than Tom Brady, the clear-cut MVP of the league. The other five games are a different story.

Weeks 1 & 9: Record: 2-0 Stats: 41-54 passing, 580 yards, 10.7 YPA, eight TDs, zero turnovers

All other weeks: Record: 0-5 Stats: 106-170 passing, 1215 yards, 7.1 YPA, five TDs, six interceptions, four lost fumbles, four 4th quarter turnovers

This is more than a case of inconsistent rookie play. This is a curious case of a potential facade of greatness. How can a player — even a rookie — look so superb for two games, but struggle to make plays for the majority of the season?

Part of the problem for Mariota has been his offensive line, which has struggled to protect the young quarterback. Another part is that this offense in general lacks talent.

With that being said, part of the problem has also been Mariota himself. There have not been enough instances where Mariota has shown his alleged veteran leadership. That fiery competitiveness has rarely shown up in games.

Who is Marcus Mariota?

As a rookie, there is no clear way to define him yet, but is he going to be Tampa Bay/New Orleans Mariota, or will he be Cleveland/Carolina Mariota?

The curious case of Marcus Mariota will be further examined this Thursday against an improving Jacksonville Jaguars team that is actually competing for a division title. The Titans themselves are in the thick of the AFC South race and only trail the Indianapolis Colts by two games.

With Andrew Luck out potentially for a month, will Mariota be able to lead the Titans on a second-half surge, or will he be completely uninspiring and pedestrian?

The opinion of our writers/bloggers are not a reflection of the opinion of the Tennessee Journalist as a whole.

Edited by Nathan Odom

6 thoughts on “Mariota Monday: The Curious Case of Marcus Mariota

  1. Again, I don’t see any point where the writer says that Mariota is bad. He is just observing that out of 7 games, Mariota has been absolutely sensational for two, but the other five are dramatic drop offs. I don’t see any point where he says that Mariota is a bad quarterback or that he isn’t performing well for a rookie. He also points out the Titans shortcomings, from the offensive line to the lack of refined talent on offense. I don’t think this is a case of over analyzing, but rather a question on why Mariota can look so great one week, and so underwhelming in the following weeks.

  2. The writer’s argument is laughable, and I am coming from a neutral point of view. The over analysis of rookie quarterbacks is ridiculous. I hope both Winston and Mariota become elite in the future, because that is what is best for the NFL, especially once Brady, Manning, Brees retire. Why look at stats in win vs stats in loss? Of course stats in wins will skew the overall stats, just like stats in losses will skew the stats as well. This is for every quarterback, especially a rookie quarterback.

    Aaron Rodgers: Wins: Comp pct: 68.1 YPA: 8.19 TD: 15 INT:2 Rating: 115.9,
    Losses: Comp pct: 56.5 YPA: 5.95 TD: 6 INT: 1 Rating: 86.0
    Obviously ARod will throw less picks since he is an experienced, elite quarterback, but even the elite have dichotomies between wins and losses. That is why the QB is the most important position in football. Now, to use this against a rookie quarterback? Completely laughable. Look at Winston’s stats overall, in wins, in losses, and it is still not up to par to Mariota.
    Remember, Mariota was supposed to the one with the biggest learning curve. He never called plays, never was under center, never huddled in Oregon. He never was forced to make NFL throws. Winston came from a pro-style offense. Mariota has exceeded everybody’s expectations, even his mediocre/bad performances are not up to par to what we expected. So lets not be butt-hurt over media bias in terms of giving Mariota a break or not vs Winston. That is what the media does, stop being so sensitive. If media treatment of quarterbacks mean that much, grow a thicker skin. Winston brought the unpopularity upon himself with his actions in college. Is it deserved? Maybe not, he was a college student, but lets not act like its a witch hunt. Also, I’ve seen plenty of media treatment that is good to Jameis, its the trolls on the comment sections that take it to the other level. If that bothers you, grow a thicker skin. Winston and Mariota are both having solid years, Mariota has been slightly better, especially since he does not have a running game or receivers like Winston (even butter fingers Mike Evans is better than Justin Hunter and DGB, and Vincent Jackson is a former pro bowler) and he is coming from a fast break Oregon offense that has no relation to the NFL. Lets just chill and enjoy their development. Quit having your personal agenda and use stats to fit that agenda, especially when those same stats can be used against you. I hope both quarterbacks improve and can create a bit of a rivalry.

  3. I think you are misunderstanding the article. He acknowledges the offensive line issues as well as the refined talent at the running back/receiver positions. What he is saying is that it’s odd for a quarterback to look so invincible in two contests, but then play average to below average football in other contests, which I would agree with.

    Also, how come Mariota was crowned after these two performances, but once he doesn’t perform great, the rookie card is played again? No matter what happens, Mariota finds a way to avoid criticism. Yet, his counterpart Jameis Winston, gets blasted every time he performs poorly. There is inherent hypocrisy towards Mariota. The writer acknowledges that he is a rookie and that it is not uncommon to struggle. Yet, he also realizes that Mariota’s season is heavily skewed towards two performances.

    From the eye test, Mariota has had a decent rookie season. Noticed he used the word “GREAT” and not good. He isn’t saying Mariota is a bad quarterback. So stop being sensitive towards your quarterback and come back to reality. He has been average at best and the Titans are 2-7.

  4. I don’t think he will ever be elite but he can turn into a very efficient quarterback if you surround him with talent. He is not the type of quarterback that will ever carry a team Andrew Luck style, but could definitely be a great QB and game manager for the right team. Only time will tell how he ends up, but he’s a good guy so I hope the best for him, just think Tennessee might not be his place.

  5. This literally reads like a paper that was assigned the night before. The eye test says Mariota hasn’t had a great rookie season? It looks as if Mr. Bradford took five minutes to check online stats and wrote this article. As a resident of Nashville, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, and an avid Vols and Titans fan, I am ashamed at the analysis (or lack thereof) in this article. If you aren’t going to take time to watch the games, don’t take the time to write an article. Football is the same in Knoxville as it is in Nashville; no offensive line and depleted depth at the skill positions yield a pedestrian offense.

  6. This is a strange article indeed. Marcus Mariota is a rookie QB who is playing behind a mediocre offensive line, and with not optimal receiving weapons. Worse yet, both of these position groups have experienced several injuries that have exacerbated an already bad situation, and not allowed any continuity for a young signal-caller. However, even under those parameters, Mariota has played fantastic in two of his seven starts, and has put up decent numbers in his other games as well. As mentioned, Mariota played the majority of his game against the Dolphins with a sprained MCL, which would surely affect any QB’s mobility and accuracy, right?

    However, even if you take away his two best games, Mariota is still completing 62% of his passes, and has 5 TD’s and 6 INT’s. Compare these stats to Peyton Manning’s rookie year in Indianapolis, where he completed only 56% of his passes, and threw 26 TD’s and 28 INT’s. Worse yet? In Manning’s first six starts of the 1998 season, he never had a passer rating better than 66.8. Meanwhile, in Mariota’s first six starts, he’s never had a passer rating under 67.6, while registering three games above 96.3.

    Pro Football Focus did a nice article today on Mariota and Jameis Winston in which they summed up Mariota’s play this way:
    “Mariota’s biggest weapon so far has been his efficiency. The very thing he was criticized for by some before the draft has been his most impressive attribute, and he has completed 71.9 percent of his passes when he has had a clean pocket to work with. His passer rating on those plays is 104.3, and he has gained 8.2 yards per attempt. Those are all excellent numbers, and it is just as encouraging that his figures remain high when blitzed. They drop across the board when he is pressured, but as a rookie that is hardly unexpected. He has been the model of efficiency at quarterback, even if the Titans haven’t asked him to carry the offense the way some other teams have.”
    https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2015/11/16/pro-how-marcus-mariota-jameis-winston-compare-to-past-rookie-qbs/

    So it seems pretty simple. Protect Mariota in the pocket and he’ll complete passes even if he’s blitzed. Pressure him, and his stats will suffer. The analysis wasn’t as favorable for Winston, who was described as “inconsistent” regardless of his protection.

    Mariota’s performance against the Carolina Panthers was further affected by the fact that his team couldn’t consistently gain yardage on run plays (Andrews and Sankey were a combined 13 rushes for 15 yards) and his receivers had problems catching balls on critical 3rd downs.

    If the Titans are able to upgrade Mariota’s protection and give him a decent run game to eliminate the constant 3rd and long situations, he’ll develop into one of the game’s best. If not, he’ll continue to put up numbers that are better than the talent that surrounds him.

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