For the first time in NFL history, quarterbacks drafted first and second overall met in the season opener, with the Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota debut in Tampa Bay. Mariota and the Tennessee Titans came out on top, 42-14. The former Oregon Duck completed 13 of 16 passes for 209 yards and four touchdowns, joining Fran Tarkenton as just the second quarterback to throw for four TDs in their first game.
The Titans offense used a number of elements that Marcus Mariota ran at Oregon, and this play is one such example. Late in the second quarter, the Titans have 12 offensive personnel on the field, with Mariota standing in the shotgun. The Buccaneers have their 4-2-5 package in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary:
His first read is the defensive end. If the DE stays home, Mariota should hand McCluster the football. But if the defender keys on the RB and crashes inside, the QB should keep the football and progress to his next read ‒ the force defender on the outside.
Anthony Fasano runs a route to the flat, so if the force defender, cornerback Alterraun Verner (#21) , stays with tight end, Mariota should keep the football. This option gives him space to run on the edge, with left tackle Taylor Lewan (#77) leading the way and blocking play-side linebacker Lavonte David (#54).
At the snap, the defensive end crashes inside on the run fake and the force defender collapses on Mariota:
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Mariota calmly flips the ball out to Fasano in the flat. The TE rumbles towards the end zone before being stopped just short of the goal line.
Traits & Transitions
Even working in run/pass options and quick-striking concepts, Mariota displayed some of the traits that convinced some draft followers that his play would transition well to the NFL. The first is his accuracy and ball placement. Many times on Sunday, Mariota showed the ability to place the football exactly where it needs to be, putting his receivers in position to pick up yards after the catch.
On this first play, Mariota stands in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with trips to the right and a single receiver split left. Tampa Bay’s defense shows Cover 2 in the secondary, with 4-2-5 personnel on the field. Just prior to the snap, the defense rolls their coverage to Cover 1:
Mariota fakes the inside zone run to his running back and finds Justin Hunter on a weak-side slant route:
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Mariota places the throw perfectly: out in front of the receiver and leading him away from coverage. The defender is able to drag Hunter down from behind, but only after the receiver picks up a few more yards after the catch.
Don’t Watch The Eyes
This next play is another well-placed throw ‒ and an example of Mariota’s ability to influence defenders with his eyes. Facing 2nd and 5, the quarterback stands in the shotgun with trips formation to the right and 11 personnel on the field. The Buccaneers have their 4-2-5 defense in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary:
Just prior to the snap, wide receiver Harry Douglas (#83) comes in “in-and-out” motion on the right. He leaves his inside trips alignment, motions to the football, and then returns back to his starting point. The response from the defense ‒ the cornerback trailing Douglas on his motion ‒ indicates man coverage in the secondary. The offense runs a switch vertical concept, with Kendall Wright (#13) –the middle receiver in the trips –running a post while Douglas cuts outside on a vertical route:
As this play develops Mariota does a very good job of selling the free safety on Wright’s post route, staring down this pattern while Douglas extends vertically. Mariota then comes off the post route ‒ having held the free safety in the middle of the field ‒ and executes a perfect throw:
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Another trait that was on display in his debut was Mariota’s ability to fit the football into tight throwing windows. Mariota saw a number of open receivers in college due to Oregon’s offensive scheme, but also showed the ability to squeeze the football into narrow throwing lanes at times. On his opening drive in the NFL he showed this ability once more.
The Titans face a 3rd and 10 at their own 26-yard line, with Mariota in the shotgun and 12 personnel in the game. Tampa Bay has their 4-2-5 defense in the game, showing Cover 2 in the secondary and a double A Gap blitz up front:
Douglas and tight end Delanie Walker (#82) are in slot formation on the left, running switch curl routes from that side of the formation. The TE starts outside but cuts over the middle of the field on a deep curl, while the WR begins inside, taking his curl route to the perimeter:
While LB Kwon Alexander (#58) does blitz through the A Gap, David drops into underneath coverage in this Cover 2 scheme. Mariota does a solid job of squeezing this throw to Walker in between David and cornerback Sterling Moore (#26):
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The end zone view gives a good look at how Mariota executes this play. Not only does he fit this throw into a narrow throwing lane, he releases the pass as Walker makes his break, leading the tight end into the space between David and Moore:
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While one game does not a career make, Mariota ran the offense well on Sunday and displayed some of the traits that made him the #2 overall selection in the 2015 draft. The Titans face the Cleveland Browns this weekend and the rookie quarterback has a good chance to turn in a second-straight strong performance against a defense that gave up 31 points to the New York Jets in the season-opener.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.