Once upon a time, Marcus Mariota was a promising quarterback.
It’s true, and we’re not talking about Mariota’s University of Oregon days. Over an eight-game stretch in Mariota’s second season with the Tennessee Titans, the former No. 2 overall pick of the draft had 2,073 yards, 21 touchdowns and three interceptions for a 117.7 passer rating. That’s not a huge sample, but bad quarterbacks generally don’t put together a half-season like that. During that stretch, you’d have guessed the Titans had their franchise quarterback.
What has happened to that guy? The player we saw on “Thursday Night Football,” being outplayed by rookie sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew in a 20-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, looked nothing like the Heisman Trophy winner with the Ducks or the promising second-year quarterback. He’s a conservative game manager now, and not even great at that. Mariota led only one touchdown drive, and that came in the fourth quarter after the Jaguars had control of the game. He threw for 304 yards, but if you watched the game you know he didn’t play well.
Mariota is in the final year of his rookie deal and it’s hard to imagine the Titans offering him a big extension unless he looks a lot better than he has so far this season.
Marcus Mariota has regressed
There are plenty of reasons Mariota has regressed. He has had a new offensive system to learn seemingly every year. Injuries have piled up. Maybe those injuries have taken away some of his abilities. On Thursday night, it rained through most of his bad first half. Tennessee didn’t protect Mariota well, giving up nine sacks, but Mariota contributed to those sacks by not getting the ball out fast enough.
There weren’t many positive signs for Mariota on Thursday night. In one sequence, after Mariota threw his best pass of the night on a 47-yard gain to Tajae Sharpe, Mariota had a couple shots at a touchdown. He had receivers open in the end zone on second and third down, and both passes were tipped and incomplete. The Titans went for it on fourth down and Mariota took a sack.
It wasn’t pretty. Mariota was 6-of-16 for 62 yards before halftime. He held the ball too long on many sacks. He often settled for checkdowns instead of trying to push the ball downfield. Minshew, in his second career start replacing injured Nick Foles, cooled off after a good start but he made some very nice throws. He looked like the better of the two starting quarterbacks on Thursday night.
Could Titans consider a QB switch?
Mariota and Jameis Winston, who was drafted one spot ahead of Mariota in the 2015 draft, are in the final years of their contracts. Both had to play well to convince their teams to lock them up long term. Neither has looked the part.
Mariota was solid in Week 1, but the past two weeks has reverted to the quarterback we saw the past couple seasons, when he was average at best. There haven’t been many moments since that second season in which Mariota has looked like a special player.
Over the offseason, the Titans traded a fourth- and seventh-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Ryan Tannehill and a sixth-round pick. It was a significant investment, and a hedge on Mariota’s health history and his ability to play at a high level.
People started to wonder during Thursday’s game if Titans coach Mike Vrabel would turn to Tannehill, who played well in the preseason. Vrabel said after Thursday’s loss he wasn’t close to making the switch during the game. If Mariota doesn’t play better, it might not take much longer to make that move.
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