Has there been a 5 year period in a young quarterbacks career like Marcus Mariota and Tennessee Titan fans have experienced? In his opening game after being selected second in that years draft, he threw for 4 touchdowns no interceptions and had a QBR (quarterback rating) of 158.3. That’s as good as it gets folks. No quarterback will have a QBR any higher than that. When you do the math that is the highest rating you can have. It is perfect. That’s a high bar.
Still, no one expects any quarterback to do that every game. That number is a goal, a statistical target to shoot at not a game to game accomplishment. His second game it dropped to 96.3. At seasons end he finished 17th in the league with a QBR of 91.5. Right in the middle of the league and 11 spots higher than the other rookie quarterback taken ahead of him Jameis Winston. Even with a 3-9 starting record, the future was looking promising for the Titans.
Dictionary.com has three definitions of the word consistency. The third one applies here. Consistency: agreement, harmony, or compatibility especially correspondence or uniformity among the parts of a complex thing. There are few things any more complex than an NFL offensive scheme. It takes a village of coaches and players to plan, prepare, install, and execute a game plan. Out of those four categories, the execution part rests squarely on the players.
So the rest of that is the responsibility of the coaches. The head coach and the offensive coordinator get together and figure out how they can best use the talent on their team to defeat the defensive talent on the other guy’s team. See, the basic concept is simple even though it can be insanely complicated to achieve it. The quarterback has been the same, Mariota all five years. Let’s take a look at the rest of the story.
Round and Round Coaching We Go
Ken Whisenhunt was the head coach and Jason Micheal was the offensive coordinator when Mariota was drafted in 2014. That pair was still around in 2015 even though Terry Robiskie took over the offensive coordinator duties and Micheal stepped back to be the quarterback’s coach. I will note now that Micheal had only been officially a quarterbacks coach once in his career. That was in 2006 with the New York Jets. That quarterback was Chad Pennington who threw 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
In 2016 Mike Mularkey, who took over as head coach seven games into the 2015 season stayed and retained Robiskie as the offensive coordinator. The Titans in the year and half found an offensive identity. “Exotic Smashmouth” was 4th in the NFL in total rushing yards and had a winning season for the first time since 2011. 2017 saw a repeat of the 9-7 record except it was good enough to make the playoffs. It was also a repeat for Mariota leading a team that was 28th in the league in pass attempts for the second year in a row.
A Leader of Men
Making the playoffs was not enough for the front office. General Manager Jon Robinson and the Titans parted way with Mularkey and Robiskie. Mike Vrabel was named head coach and young wunderkind Matt Lafleur did the play calling as the offensive coordinator. So the offense focused on developing and using their quarterback right? Well, the offense didn’t stay 28th in passing attempts. No, it dropped to 31st. Now LaFleur has moved on to the Green Bay Packers. Mariota will have his 5th combination of head coach / offensive coordinator in 5 years.
Vrabel was a defensive player and a defensive coach and coordinator. It is critical for Mariota’s development to get the right coordinator in place. It is vital for not only his success but the success of the entire organization. Teams with consistency, (There’s that word again) at the head coach and offensive coordinator have a considerable amount of success.
How Important is It
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been together a long time. Josh McDaniels has been there the past seven years. Drew Brees has played for Sean Payton since he arrived in New Orleans but did you know that Pete Carmichael has been Payton’s right hand offensive man for 9 years? I know both those are extreme examples and I’m not comparing Mariota to two of the best that ever laced up cleats. So is there anything that accompanies these changes that we can really see? Yes there is.
Big Ben Roethlisberger had an offensive coordinator change this year and Pittsburgh missed the playoffs. They also went from 11th in turnovers to 26th. In 2016 Matt Ryan led the Atlanta Falcons to the Superbowl. They turned the ball over the fewest of any team in the NFL. The next year after offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left to coach the San Francisco the Falcons and “Matty Ice” fell to 9th in the league. In 2016 the Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr were 4th in the league in turnovers and one of the favorites to make a run at the Superbowl before Carr was injured. Exit Bill Musgrave in 2017 and enter new coordinator Todd Downing. The Raiders finished 28th in the league in offensive turnovers.
All Together Now
I believe it is unfair to say Marcus Mariota isn’t consistent and hold him accountable when the Titans organization hasn’t put the right mentors and staff in place to develop him. Mariota’s skill set is a rare thing at the most coveted position to fill in all of professional sports. The second most coveted should be offensive coordinator.