Prove It Or Move It – The Case For Marcus Mariota

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Titans at Bills
11 October 2015: Tennessee Titans Quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during the NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tn. (Photo by Greg McWilliams/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Greg McWilliams/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

All eyes rest on the Tennessee Titans this season.  One of the most polarizing players in the NFL may be at risk of losing his job.  Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is in a contract year and it is fair to say that he has a lot to prove.  Given the recent decline in production and long string of injuries, the first thing Mariota needs to prove is he can stay healthy.  How much of the recent decline in productivity is his fault?  Is Mariota the Titans franchise quarterback?  Or will the Titans move on from him after the 2020 season?  Needless to say, this season is going to be pivotal for the Titans going forward.

Injury History

It’s hard to blame a player because of injuries.  In fact, before coming into the NFL, Mariota was an iron man at Oregon.  Mariota did suffer a partial MCL tear in 2013 but continued to play every game that season.  Mariota’s injuries never surfaced again until his promising rookie season with the Titans.  Halfway through the season Mariota’s right leg was rolled up on and sprained his MCL, costing him two games.  Two months later the same MCL was sprained and it cost him the final two games of the season.

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The 2016 season was Mariota’s major breakout campaign.  After finishing his rookie season 3-13, Mariota was leading the Titans to a bounce back season.  Coming into week 16 with an 8-6 record, Mariota suffered a gruesome broken fibula.  Mariota’s promise was evident to anyone watching, but the whispers were already starting.  There were questions whether or not he could stay healthy for an entire season.

2017 held sky-high expectations for the Titans.  Coming off of a 9-7 season and just barely missing the playoffs, the Titans held serious playoff aspirations.  Mariota’s first three games were great.  The passing game was humming and it appeared Mariota was on the verge of taking the next step.  Unfortunately, Mariota’s path was crossed by another black cat.  Mariota injured his hamstring against the Texans in week four.  This was just a minor hamstring injury that only cost him a game.  Still, while Mariota was efficient, after the hamstring injury he didn’t look the same.

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For 2018… well… Mariota had a myriad of injuries he played through, and still lead the Titans to a 9-7 record.  Just let that sink in.  Mariota played through:

  1. Ulnar Nerve Issue
  2. Neck Stinger Week 16
  3. Cracked Vertebra
  4. Plantar Fascia had a partial tear that escalated to a full tear.
  5. Strained Oblique
  6. Cracked Rib
  7. Sprained AC Shoulder Joint

The stats may not have been flashy, but that’s a franchise quarterback.

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A Schematic Nightmare

Let’s be honest.  On top of injuries, Mariota has had possibly the worst string of play callers mixed with poor surrounding talent of any quarterback.  Dealing with a revolving door of offensive coordinators and head coaches, Mariota has hardly ever had any semblance of continuity.  That’s objectively a lot to ask of a young quarterback, especially one that had little offensive weapons to work with.

Mariota’s career began with Jason Michael as his offensive coordinator, who moved to quarterbacks coach after Mariota’s rookie season.  Then, Mariota’s breakout 2016 season moves in with the awful play calling of Terry Robiskie.  Mariota was thriving in the offense despite Robiskie’s “exotic smash mouth” style of play-calling.  After two seasons of that, the Titans eventually moved on from Robiskie and hired Matt LaFleur.

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LaFleur entered with such high expectations.  Coming from a coaching tree of offensive geniuses like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, LaFleur seemed like a slam dunk hire.  Despite having no professional play calling experience, LaFleur seemed like the hire to finally utilize Mariota’s talents to the fullest.  Well… we know how that turned out.  LaFleur seemed completely lost with how to properly utilize the unique weapons at his disposal.

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Best Situation He’s Ever Been In

This may sound like a broken record, but the sun might finally be shining upon Mariota.  New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith has worked alongside his entire career.  The longtime tight ends coach will finally get his shot at play-calling.  While LaFleur has shown that expectations still need to be tempered, Smith should have an excellent feel for Mariota’s strengths and weaknesses.

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This is also by far the most talent that Mariota has had surrounding him in his entire career with Tennessee.  2017 fifth overall pick, Corey Davis, finally has a quality surrounding cast of receivers around him.  This will allow him to not be consistently blanketed by opposing defenses.  The additions of veteran slot receiver, Adam Humphries, as well as 2nd-round draft pick A.J. Brown makes this a dangerous receiving core.

Derrick Henry finally had his breakout after LaFleur figured out he needed to feed the beast.  Mariota’s longtime favorite target, Delanie Walker, has returned from his injury that cost him almost the entire 2018 season.  The offensive line has been retooled and the defense is young and hungry.  Mariota’s arsenal of weapons has never been more loaded.

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Don’t write Mariota off as a bust just yet.  The talent suggests you might wind up eating those words.

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