Doubt may remain about the transition of Marcus Mariota to the NFL. Mark Schofield has looked at his strengths and weaknesses, his footwork and his game film and believes he is the best quarterback prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft. In part two of this series, he addresses the concerns.
Detractors biggest knock on Marcus Mariota is that he is a project, pointing to the Oregon offensive system and arguing that he thrived in an offense that was based off one-read throws to wide-open receivers. While this was true early in Mariota’s career, it was not in 2014. As he gained experience at Oregon, the coaching staff tasked him with more responsibility which required more reads and decisions in their offense. During 2014 he showed many of the traits needed for a smooth transition of Marcus Mariota to the NFL.
On this first play, Oregon implements a packaged play concept. The offense has slot formation to the left and pro formation to the right. The Ducks start with play-action read-option, setting up the bubble screen to the slot side of the field. The tight end and flanker run mirrored post routes on the back-side of the play, while the running back carries out an underneath crossing route:
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Mariota executes the run fake and checks the bubble screen. South Dakota runs Cover 0 on this play, with one of the safeties breaking toward the slot side of the field as he reads bubble screen. Seeing this, Mariota works to the backside from the TE to the flanker, or Z. He opts for his third read here: the post route from the receiver. Then he delivers a perfectly placed pass. This is a tremendous progression and throw from Mariota.
Oregon used many mirrored pass patterns, allowing Mariota to read the coverage and throw to the side where the defense was most vulnerable. Against Washington is one such example ‒ with dual slot formations Oregon runs a dig/curl combination to each side of the field, as the outside receivers run deep dig routes while the inside receivers run short curls, creating a high/low read on each side of the field:
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The Huskies flash Cover 2 at the snap but the CBs bail and they roll into Cover 4. Mariota initially reads this to the short side of the field, but the inside quarter safety on that side sits on the dig route, forcing Mariota to look at the opposite side. That safety has released deep up the hashmark where he is out of position and Mariota throws a strike to the mirrored dig route. Notice how Mariota “throws the receiver open” on this play. He places the throw away from the outside quarter defender, in front of the safety, and behind the underneath coverage – a good example of an anticipation throw.
Eric Stoner breaks down this play in-depth for Matt Waldman in a great piece titled Marcus Mariota: The Task-Oriented QB. Stoner reaches many of the same conclusions here, but questions why Mariota opened up to the left side of the field first, given that the safety to that side sat on the hashmark. My best – educated – guess is that Mariota opened to that side because given the coverage (a balanced, Cover 4 look) his first read is to the short-side of the field. This is the progression system I ran in college, where we used many mirrored plays. With all things being equal, open first to the short side of the field. A shorter throw is an easier throw, and with less time the ball spends in flight the quicker it gets to the receiver, who is then in better position to make a play after the catch. Thus, Mariota starts the play looking left against a balanced Cover 4 look, but when the safety squats on the hash he has the awareness to peel back to the wide-side of the field and the open dig route.
Take What You Are Given
The art of quarterbacking requires that a passer take what the defense gives him, and sometimes, that means getting the football to a running back on a checkdown route. For this play, Oregon has dual slot formations with a running back to Mariota’s left in the backfield. The outside receivers run short curls while the slot receiver on the left runs a deep curl. The right slot receiver runs a seam, and the running back runs another short curl route. The Huskies drop into a Cover 4 zone on this play:
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With the outside routes covered and the linebackers dropping deep into coverage to get under the outside routes, the running back is in space. Mariota delivers him the football and lets the back gain yardage after the catch.
On this next play against California, the defense runs Cover 4. Mariota has one receiver split left and slot formation to his right. Oregon has two running backs in the backfield, one in motion from right to left. The running back continues on a swing route to the left while the receiver on that side runs a streak. The inside slot receiver to the right runs a shallow crossing route while the outside receiver runs a post.
Watch as Mariota works from left to right on this play, checking the streak, the crossing route, and finally settling on the post for a touchdown:
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This is a good job by the quarterback of manipulating the coverage. By working through his progressions, he entices the two middle safeties a few steps closer the streak/swing combination routes ‒ away from the backside post route which he hits for the score.
Poise Under Pressure
Also, this play from the California game shows not only his ability to work through progressions, but his vision and ability to improvise. Oregon uses trips to the left with a single WR split wide right. The play is a designed rollout to the left, toward the three receiver set. The inside receiver runs a deep crossing route away from the rollout, while the middle receiver executes a quick out. The backside single WR runs a deep post route, trailing behind Mariota’s roll-out.
Meanwhile, the outside receiver in the trips formation falls down:
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With Mariota rolling out, California runs Cover 1 and both the quick out route and the backside post are covered. The outside receiver is on the turf, and every designed option in the flow of the play has been snuffed out.
Mariota stops, finds the crossing route moving away from him, and delivers a strong throw away from the movement of the play for a first down. Even when the plan literally falls down, Mariota shows tremendous vision and awareness.
Colin Kaepernick. Easy comparison I know, but I think Kaepernick is his floor to be honest. Mariota is more polished than Kaepernick was coming out of Nevada, but has similar athletic ability and arm strength.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.