Tennessee Titans: Two Marcus Mariota Plays That Changed Game vs. Colts


If you did not watch the Tennessee Titans take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, you missed a preview of what could be a lot of fun battles between Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota over the course of their careers. Unfortunately for Mariota and the Titans, two rookie quarterback decisions from Mariota in the fourth quarter ended up costing them the game, as they lost 35-33.

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The key part of that last phrase is “rookie quarterback decisions,” as both of these plays (as you will see below) are going to be corrected this week in the film room. Mariota, being the film rat that he is, will be the first to tell you that these two rookie decisions were on him, and cost his team the game when it was all said and done.

Before we get into those plays, it is important to note that Mariota had a good day under center. He finished 27-of-44 for 367 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His steady quarterback play put the Titans in a position to win, as the Titans took a 27-14 lead into the fourth quarter, which is exactly where we are going to begin our study of the turning points of this game.

The first major turning point came with the Titans in the midst of a drive that ended the third quarter and took them into the fourth quarter. With a 27-14 lead, Mariota and the Titans offense moved the ball from their own 21 all the way to the Indianapolis 35-yard line. On first down, they ran left with Bishop Sankey for a five-yard gain. On 2nd and 5, Dexter McCluster lost four yards, pushing Mariota and company back to the Indianapolis 34-yard line for 3rd and 9.

Heading into this play with a 13-point lead, Mariota and the Titans offense obviously want to try and get the first down to extend the drive, but there are two things you absolutely cannot do in this situation, turn the ball over or take a sack. With a rookie quarterback and the lead, the Titans coaching staff should have called a running play to get a few yards and make the field goal easier, or they should have called a quick-hitter pass play to get the ball out quickly and let one of Mariota’s receivers work with the ball in space.

Instead, the play below was called. The Titans went three wide and decided to keep both the tight end and running back in to help block a Colts front that started the play with six players in the box and was showing blitz, as you can see in the image below.

Screenshot from NFL Game Pass.

With six potential defenders coming after Mariota, a safety playing deep and another defender helping on the right side of the screen, one would think the Titans would change the play to have one of the top two receivers running a slant or a quick out. However, that is not the case as you can see in the next image. Instead, they are all running deeper routes to the sticks, with the exception of the slot receiver who is tangled up with his man. A good throw toward the sideline to the receiver on the bottom of the screen is really the only option, however, Mariota is already feeling the pocket collapse and looking to leave the pocket.

Screenshot from NFL Game Pass.

This is where the “rookie decision” comes in for Mariota. The instant he leaves the pocket, that ball should be going toward the ground in front of the receiver on the lower part of the screen. Instead, college Mariota thinks he can leave the pocket and scramble, but he does not see the defender coming off his block to sack him (image below) for an eight-yard loss, which pushes his team out of field goal position. Following the punt, Luck and the Colts would march 98 yards for a touchdown to bring the game to a 27-21 score.

Screenshot from NFL Game Pass.

Next up is the second turning point, or what we are going to refer as the “Mariota Bait and Switch.”

This piece of film will be played on a loop by Mariota, as the Colts disguised their coverage with zone to bait the youngster into trying to “make a play” to his favorite receiver, Kendall Wright. As you can see in the image below, from the second Mariota snapped the ball his head and body are pointing one direction, toward the left (where Wright was).

Screenshot from NFL Game Pass.

Now, this is where things get intriguing, because it actually appears as if there is a window to hit Wright since his man has stopped and is helping on the two underneath receivers. But this is where the bait and switch comes into play, as the safety is sitting back just waiting for Mariota to throw the ball as you can see in the image.

Screenshot from NFL Game Pass.

Mariota does exactly what they want, and the second he throws the ball Wright’s way, the safety breaks toward where the ball is going (image below). The result, as many of you can guess, is an interception which the Colts return to the Titans 11-yard line. On the very next play, Luck hooks up with Donte Moncrief for a touchdown which puts them up 28-27.

Screenshot from NFL Game Pass.

Do these two plays suddenly doom Mariota and mean he is not going to be a good quarterback in the NFL? No, actually quite the opposite.

Mariota is still learning to process the NFL game from within the pocket, so things like reverting to old tendencies to scramble and locking on to a primary read and not moving the safety with his eyes are going to happen. He has already shown the ability to bounce back from a down performance against the Browns to have a good game against the Colts, when he could have easily played scared because of the hits he took in Week 2.

Unfortunately for this game and the chance to be 2-1, Mariota had those two rookie mistakes which ended up being major turning points and cost his team the game. The good thing is that he will get a whole Bye Week to figure out what he did wrong and prepare for the Buffalo Bills and one of the best defensive fronts in the league.

Next: NFL: After Further Thought: Week 3 Early Edition

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