The bright lights of a primetime NFL contest were dimmed this past Thursday. The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, two consistent cellar dwellers of the vulnerable AFC South, dueled in a match marred by field goals, defensive penalties, and turnovers.
For Marcus Mariota it was his first taste of the NFL bright lights, performing admirably considering the circumstances. His final stat line was unimpressive (22-35, 231 yards, 5 rushes, 29 yards, rushing touchdown), but according to ESPN’s QBR scale, Mariota had a fantastic performance. Mariota posted his third highest QBR of the season at 81.8, his third game with a QBR above 80 this season. Despite the impressive QBR, the Titans lost to the Jaguars 19-13, falling to 2-8 on the season and 2-6 when Mariota is the starter.
So, how much is Mariota to blame for last night’s defeat?
Very very little. Just a smidgeon, as Mariota was playing with a lot going against him.
For starters, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter were out with injuries, meaning that his top receivers were Harry Douglas, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Delaine Walker. While Walker was an absolute stud last night (8 catches, 109 yards), the next best weapon for Mariota was literally pass interference. In total, the Titans received 49 yards worth of pass interference penalties. Their second most prolific receiver in the game, Green-Beckham, had three receptions for 40 yards.
All 49 of those penalty yards came in the lone drive that resulted in a touchdown; a touchdown that was pleasing and promising for Titan nation. With Mariota in the shotgun, the play was a designed read option that was executed to perfection. On 2nd&10 at the Jacksonville 23-yard line, Mariota snapped the ball and prepared to hand the ball off to rookie running back David Cobb. As he was about to put the ball right into the center of Cobb, Mariota noticed Jacksonville’s defense swirling around the running back, leaving a lane on Mariota’s left side. Mariota quickly pulled the ball out and sprinted down the left sideline for a 23-yard touchdown jaunt, the first of his career.
These kind of moments are what give Mariota the potential to be a special quarterback.
What Mariota needs to work on though is his deep ball accuracy. Mariota was excellent when throwing the short/intermediate routes, but was often off the mark when throwing the ball 21+ yards down the field. Early in the game, Mariota completed a nice pass on a post route to Walker. For the rest of the game, Mariota overthrew deep routes, threw behind receivers, or simply placed inaccurate passes. Heading into this game, Mariota had only completed 4 of 23 passes that traveled 21+ yards in the air. Three of Mariota’s six interceptions this season have come on those types of throws. For the game, Mariota completed 3 of 11 passes for 63 yards on throws classified by ESPN as deep throws.
Another part of Mariota’s game that needs improving is the fourth quarter performances. Mariota did a decent enough job to give the Titans a chance to win the game at the end, but there was a play in particular that did the Titans a lot of damage. With 1:05 left in the game, Mariota completed a three-yard shovel pass to Antonio Andrews, who was tackled in bounds. This play did little to help the Titans tw0-minute offense, as the Titans did not get another play off until there were 41 seconds left in the game. These 26 seconds were wasted on three measly yards that ended up hurting the Titans more than helping. In all reality, Mariota would have been better off throwing the ball at the feet of Andrews to stop the clock.
Of course, on the final play of the game, the Titans offensive line completely came apart, as a four-man pass rush was enough to disrupt the pocket, causing Mariota to step up. Before Mariota could launch a pass into the end zone, he was sacked and the game was over.
It should also be mentioned that down 16-13, Mariota completed a nice sideline pass to tight end Phillip Supernaw, who then fumbled the ball and gave the Jags great field position. This play delayed the Titans’ comeback effort.
As mentioned before, Mariota’s QBR for the game was 81.8. If you’re curious on how great that score is, let’s compare this performance to other performances this season that have resulted in lower QBR’s.
Tom Brady vs Miami: 26-38, 356 yards, 4 TD in 36-7 win, 60.7 QBR
Andy Dalton vs Seattle: 30-44, 331 yards, 2 TD, INT, rushing TD in 27-24 win, 70.4 QBR
Aaron Rodgers vs Kansas City: 24-35, 333 yards, 5 TD in 38-28 win, 78.0 QBR
Clearly, while QBR is a more preferable measure of a quarterback’s effectiveness than passer rating, there are clear flaws in the scoring system. This is especially the case with Mariota’s performance last night, where a decent chunk of his passing production came on that final drive where Jacksonville was allowing Mariota to complete short passes in the middle in order to run out the clock.
In conclusion, Mariota’s performance last night was average at best with flashes of promise thanks to his legs. His accuracy is exceptional for a rookie, but thanks to a depleted receiving core, an inconsistent running game, and a momentum breaking turnover, the opportunities to make plays are not always there. The offense is still struggling mightily to put up points, with the lone touchdown for the Titans coming on a drive where the Jaguars committed back-to-back pass interference calls. Mariota needs to be a better deep ball thrower if the Titans offense wants to be more dynamic, but last night Mariota did all he could do in a mundane contest between two young teams devoid of much excitement.