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VOL. 43 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 18, 2019

Looks like Aloha for Mariota

Demise exposes organizational flaw

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Marcus Mariota looks on from the sidelines after being benched during the second half of Sunday’s 16-0 loss at Denver.

-- Photo By David Zalubowski | Associated Press

With 10 games left in his season of reckoning, Marcus Mariota’s fate with the Tennessee Titans appears to be sealed.

Mariota’s benching in Sunday’s shutout loss to Denver may very well have answered the question that has lingered throughout last season, the offseason and the early part of this season. He is not the Titans quarterback of the future – and may not even be the quarterback of the present.

Even if coach Mike Vrabel sticks with Mariota instead of Ryan Tannehill this Sunday against the Chargers and for the rest of this season, it still appears that Mariota’s days with the Titans are coming to an end.

The 2019 version of Mariota appears to be one going through the motions and appears to have regressed significantly from the confident competitor of just a couple of years ago.

In those days, even when Mariota was having a bad game, he seemed to find a way to keep his team in the contest.

Remember the playoff win in Kansas City when Mariota struggled statistically but caught a batted pass himself for a touchdown? He also threw a key block for Derrick Henry to seal the Titans’ first postseason victory in 14 years.

That Mariota is nowhere to be found this season and has been instead been replaced by a robotic quarterback who appears uncertain at times and almost unwilling at others.

So what happened?

Mariota’s year

• Mariota ranks 32nd in the NFL in passing yards per game with 196.5. He is also the only quarterback to start all of his team’s games and average under 200 yards per game this season.

• Mariota is connecting with receivers only 59.1% of the time. The only full-time starter with a worse completion percentage is Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.

• Through week 6 of the season, Mariota has been sacked 25 times. He’s tied for the most alongside Jameis Winston, the man picked ahead of Mariota.

• His seven touchdowns have come in bunches, throwing three each against the Browns and Falcons. In the Titans’ four losses this season he has only thrown one touchdown.

We may never know the whole story, but Marcus Mariota’s demise with the Titans appears to be rooted in an organizational flaw. The Titans, through numerous coaches and offensive coordinators, seem to be intent on fitting a square peg into a round hole.

The most confident and productive version we saw of Mariota was in 2016 when Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie built an offense around a strong offensive line and the rushing of DeMarco Murray. They sprinkled features that were in Mariota’s comfort zone – designed runs, run-pass option plays and the no-huddle offense.

Those things have all but disappeared from the playbook, and Mariota’s production has vanished along with them.

His confidence appears to have suffered in the process, too.

The Titans should have known when they drafted Mariota that sitting in the pocket and trying to hit receivers downfield in stride was not his strong suit. If they are looking for a quarterback to throw 45 times a game for 400 yards, Mariota is not their guy.

He was not a conventional quarterback at Oregon, but he was talented enough and explosive enough to win the Heisman Trophy.

But the Titans tried too hard to change him along the way. To get the most out of him, the offense requires forward thinking and unconventional play-calling that was featured under Mularkey’s watch.

The Titans should have borrowed a page from the Baltimore Ravens, who jettisoned Joe Flacco in favor of Lamar Jackson.

Is Jackson a finished product as a pocket passer? No, and he may never be, but the Ravens are smart enough to know that there are things he does well and make every effort to allow him to do that.

The result is a contending team, even in the midst of a quarterback and offensive philosophy change.

As for the Titans, they have now struck out three times looking for a franchise quarterback because – in part – of their unwillingness to maximize that QB’s strengths.

They tried to groom Vince Young to have more pocket awareness, and he could not adjust.

They did the same with Jake Locker and now are on the verge of wasting Mariota the same way.

The Titans organization – blame it on Steve McNair’s success, perhaps – loves a quarterback who can make off-schedule plays with his arm or his legs. But they have yet to embrace the type of offense that any of the running quarterbacks they’ve drafted would fit best.

I suspect another team will take a chance on Mariota – maybe as a backup – and let him play his game and reap the rewards.

As for the Titans, my advice when drafting the next quarterback is to draft a pocket passer, use the play-action game that is now in place and see if the results are any different.

Or, finally embrace that a running QB needs a system tailored to him in order to succeed.

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