Don't get too excited over Marcus Mariota's debut
Marcus Mariota may have won the rookie bowl in the meeting of the first two picks of the 2015 draft, but the numbers he put up might not quite match his performance.
He finished the Titans’ blowout win over the Bucs 13 of 16 for 209 yards, with four touchdown passes and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. No matter which way you slice it, that performance looks special.
His PFF grade, however, wasn’t anything close to special, coming in at “just” +1.6 for the day.
That’s a pretty good mark, and it’s a very good mark for a rookie in his first game of NFL action (Jameis Winston on the other side graded a disastrous -7.8), but it doesn’t reflect the dominance that the team had or that a perfect passer rating suggests.
This win and the stat line was far more about the gulf between the two sides and schemes than it was about how good Mariota was playing quarterback.
He also came pretty close to throwing an interception early in the game:
If that pass gets picked off, his perfect passer rating falls 26 points.
Mariota attempted just two passes that traveled 20+ yards in the air from scrimmage, and both were called back by penalty. Everything was either short (11 attempts under 10 yards) or intermediate (5), and as much a product of the defense he was facing as any fantastic skill on his part. 117 of the 209 yards he passed for came after the catch, as receivers made things happen with the ball in their hands, again highlighting how inept the Tampa Bay defense was in the game.
What Mariota did do was dispel any notion that he was inherently not ready to lead an offense at the NFL level. He looked pretty poised in the pocket, was accurate on the passes he did attempt, and took advantage of the opportunities he did have — exactly his MO at Oregon — making relatively few mistakes.
While Winston on the other side struggled in the face of an offensive line that couldn’t run block, and was surrendering consistent pressure, Mariota looked significantly more comfortable and able to work from within the framework of his offense — something the Tennessee coaching staff deserves significant credit for creating.
It may be a little early to crown Marcus Mariota the Rookie of the Year or the next great rookie passer, but what we have seen is a strong case to suggest that the strengths he showed at Oregon will translate to the NFL, despite the question mark of the scheme he was playing in. Mariota was the best-graded quarterback in the FBS last season, well ahead of Winston, and it was because of performances like this. We saw Mariota able to operate comfortably within an offense and take advantage of simple plays that it created for him. What will be interesting to see is if he can maintain that against a defense that will make him work harder for it.
The passer rating may have been perfect, but the performance has plenty of room to grow to hit that level.