1. Bucs

Turning Point, Week 1: How Mariota and the Titans dismantled the Bucs

Published Sep. 14, 2015

Before the NFL draft, you might have heard Marcus Mariota dismissed as a "system quarterback." You might have heard that he wasn't ready for the NFL because at Oregon he didn't take enough snaps under center. You might have heard that he could only throw to wide-open receivers, that he couldn't throw into tight windows. Or that he was too quiet.

Mariota's response? Oh, only four touchdown passes Sunday in the first half of his NFL debut. And he did so right in front of the quarterback selected No. 1 overall instead of him: Jameis Winston, who was as terrible as Mariota was terrific in the Titans' 42-14 rout of the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

From the start, it was Mariota who looked like the more patient, poised and accurate quarterback. Consider his first completion, a 22-yard strike to tight end Delanie Walker on the fourth play of the game. It's third-and-10, and the Bucs send five defenders after Mariota, but he doesn't hurry his throw. As the Titans offensive line successfully fends off the rush, Mariota steps up in the pocket and fires a pass high and out of the reach of both cornerback Sterling Moore and linebacker Lavonte David.

How's that for throwing into a tight window?

On the next play, a first-and-10 from midfield, Mariota and the Titans execute a play-action pass to perfection. In fact, it works so well that they not only fool the Buccaneers' defense but also the CBS cameraman and play-by-play announcer ("They give it to … on the play-action it's Mariota to Kendall Wright!").

The fake draws linebackers Kwon Alexander and Danny Lansanah to the line of scrimmage and opens up a throwing lane over the middle. Even David, the defender closest to Wright, is caught looking in the backfield. When Wright passes David, he cuts to the middle of the field, and Mariota easily hits him in stride. Safety Bradley McDougald should be there to make the touchdown-saving tackle, but he is out of position because he, too, bought into the run.

When the Titans begin their next possession, they're up 14-0 thanks to a Coty Sensabaugh interception return and — with a win probability of 88.3% — are already on the verge of putting the game out of reach.

On a second-and-7 from their own 39-yard line, the Titans go back to the play-action. Again, the Bucs linebackers bite, and before David can recover and enter Mariota's throwing lane, the ball is in receiver Justin Hunter's hands for a first down.

Just 15 seconds after Hunter is tackled, the Titans snap the ball and fake another handoff to the running back. As Alexander abandons the middle of the field to pursue the run, Wright runs to the exact spot he had been occupying, and Mariota hits him for a 13-yard gain.

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As good as Mariota was Sunday, he was also the beneficiary of excellent play design. Later in the drive, on a second-and-5 at the Tampa Bay 32-yard line, the Titans line up in the shotgun with three receivers to Mariota's right. The Bucs should be thinking pass because, to this point, Mariota has thrown the ball every time he hasn't been under center.

Harry Douglas is the receiver lined up closest to Mariota, and Wright is to Douglas' right. To gauge the Bucs' defensive coverage, the Titans put Douglas in motion. Cornerback Johnthan Banks shadows him as he moves toward the center and then returns to his original position. It's man coverage.

Upon the snap, Douglas cuts to the other side of Wright. Wright begins his route, which is designed to interfere with Banks' path to Douglas. The obstruction gives Douglas a step advantage, and Mariota delivers an accurate pass in a tight space to move the chains into the red zone.

The next play — from the Tampa Bay 12-yard line — is a misdirection. The Titans sell hard that the play will go to the left, pulling the right guard and tight end over to block.

Meanwhile, Mariota rolls out to the right. With the blitzing Alexander bearing down on him, Mariota throws off his back foot to running back Bishop Sankey, who races to the end zone.

The touchdown and extra point put the Titans up 21-0 and cut the Bucs' win probability to 5.5 percent with just under 7 minutes left in the first quarter.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at Follow @tometrics.


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