It is no secret that Marcus Mariota has been less than impressive for the Tennessee Titans throughout his short career.
Since being drafted second overall in 2015, he has inserted himself into the middle tier of NFL quarterbacks. That tier is full of players who are good enough to be starters, but will struggle to lead a team anywhere.
Think of guys like Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, and Alex Smith and where they land in the quarterback world. Mariota is proving to be that kind of player.
The Titans currently sit at 7-6. In 12 games, Mariota has thrown for 2,330 yards and only 11 touchdowns. The former Heisman Trophy winner was part of a two-headed monster before the 2015 draft with Jameis Winston. They were both clear cut top picks and were thought to be can’t miss prospects.
Well, the Bucs definitely missed with Winston and Mariota will need to improve significantly to make sure the Titans did not make the same mistake. Tennessee still has faith that he can get things back on track, but it will take some hard work on his part.
Here are three areas that Mariota must improve immediately in order to become the player the Titans need him to be.
3. Cut Down Turnovers
At Oregon, Mariota had the ability to run around the entire field and use his speed on option plays. In the NFL, linebackers are just as fast and can get to the quarterback much easier. For a player like Mariota who is not used to being caught, this has been a big adjustment and has led to turnovers.
This season, Mariota has thrown eight interceptions and fumbled five times to go along with only 11 touchdown passes. In four years, that brings his grand total up to 42 interceptions, 15 fumbles, and 69 touchdown passes. He has never eclipsed 3,500 yards in a season and is completing 63.2 percent of his passes, which in today’s NFL is not impressive.
The Titans feature a running back with a lot of talent who has seen some success this season. Derrick Henry has 714 yards and is averaging 4.9 per carry. He has found the end zone nine times. He put up a career game against he Jaguars when he ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns. Dion Lewis came over from the Patriots and has made contributions both on the ground and in the passing game.
With those backs and a big receiver like Corey Davis, the Titans should have no problem winning time of possession.
To succeed in the NFL, ball control and winning the turnover battle are essential. The Titans are negative four in the turnover margin so far this season. If Mariota wants to take the next step as a quarterback, he must learn to hold onto the ball.
The Titans are 7-6 but are one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. This, in large part, is because of the play at the quarterback position. Let’s break down their games, because for every great win, there is a terrible loss.
There was a two-game stretch where the Titans went to Dallas and beat the Cowboys 28-14. The next week, they returned home and dominated the New England Patriots 34-10. Right when they might be turning the corner, they lost their next two by 18 and 17 points respectively. In Week 3, they took down the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles in overtime, but followed it up with a 13-12 loss in Buffalo.
Mariota has been just as up and down. He has thrown a touchdown in only six of his 12 starts and has thrown for under 200 yards in the same amount of games. This includes a game in which he threw for 85 yards against the Colts and a game against the Dolphins where he completed just nine passes. His ability to run is usually a strong suit, but he has been held to just two rushing touchdowns so far.
On the other hand, Mariota has had some games where he performed very well. In that overtime win against Philly, he completed 30 of 43 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He drove the right down the field and threw the game winning touchdown to Davis. Despite only throwing touchdowns in six games, five of those saw him throw multiple.
Consistency has been an issue for Mariota since he entered the league and an excuse was always that he was young. Even though he is only 25 years old, he will be entering his fifth season in 2019 and Tennessee needs to see him show up every week.
1. Figure Out Mechanics
Mariota finished last season and knew that there was some changes to make if he wanted to improve as a passer. The offseason saw a lot of mechanical work for Mariota. It was supposed to help him turn things around, but it is only making him look a little uncomfortable.
The former Oregon Duck mentioned that he had a problem with his throwing base last season. He went into the offseason trying to fix the problem. He stood with his feet too close together and that did not allow him to have the balance he needed to make accurate throws.
Widening his stance would allow him to make throws with more zip. Has that worked this year? Not so far. Mariota is still missing throws that should be automatic. Whether they sail on him or are thrown short, there are plays to be made that could make his stat line look a lot better.
The offensive line for the Titans has not been great this year and that can mess with a quarterback’s mind. Mariota has been quick to tuck and run out of the pocket because he knows there is not much time. The offensive line has given up 28 sacks. Knowing that he can’t sit back and go through his reads, Mariota is often forced to rush. But he must have the pocket presence to feel a rush as well.
Mariota was as high a prospect as there was when he was coming out of college. Oregon’s offense was unstoppable when he was there and the Titans were hoping to get that same player, a player who could make life miserable for defenses.
So far, they have not gotten that quarterback, but he has been one of the hardest workers on his team and is dedicated to getting better. These three things could help him get his career back on track.