Breaking Down Marcus Mariota's NFL Preseason Debut

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystAugust 15, 2015

Getty Images

In the era of overreaction, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was nearly laughed off the field before he was truly given a chance to prove himself.

A funny thing happened, however, between his first and final series during the preseason contest Friday against the Atlanta Falcons. 

The No. 2 overall pick in April's NFL draft went from making multiple mistakes to looking like a franchise-caliber quarterback. 

Prior to the preseason, too much was made about a rookie quarterback not throwing an interception throughout training camp. Every day, Mariota was on a pitch count. The media charted every throw, and the quarterback's legend grew on a daily basis. 

As such, the first question on everyone's lips Friday was: Will Mariota finally throw an interception? 

The crowd at the Georgia Dome and those watching around the nation didn't have to wait long to get an answer. It wasn't pretty, either.

SB Nation provided a GIF of the ill-fated pass: 

SB Nation @SBNation

So about that whole “Marcus Mariota hasn’t thrown an interception” thing … http://t.co/GB1Mmd9CQc http://t.co/lFRLEfdgG5

This throw was problematic because of the rookie's inability to recognize the linebacker, Justin Durant, in position to make a play on the football. 

The young signal-caller tried to sell the screen to his right before he turned and located his actual target. 

On this particular play, Mariota only had a split second to decide whether to flip the pass to his running back or just throw the football into the turf. He made the wrong decision as Durant raced 21 yards to Tennessee's 9-yard line before he was tackled. 

The interception came exactly one play after the Oregon product was sacked for the first time. Pressure came up the middle from Tyson Jackson, and Mariota quickly found his way to the turf. But it should be noted that there was an open receiver over the middle of the field the rookie didn't deliver the ball to before taking the sack. 

It couldn't have been a worse start for Tennessee's new franchise quarterback. Or could it? 

During the Titans' second offensive series, Mariota dropped back to pass on 3rd-and-6 after two straight runs, and it got much worse. 

The NFL's official Twitter feed provided the next folly in the first-year signal-caller's career: 


Rough start for Mariota... 1st Possession: Pick 2nd Possession: Fumble + TD #TENvsATL http://t.co/BQC1NqOMvI

Although, no one should lay the blame on Mariota in this instance. While the fumble just added to a hilariously awful start for the quarterback, he did his job. Those around him did not.

Guard Chance Warmack whiffed on his block and allowed Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux to swipe the ball out of Mariota's hand. The quarterback did what he is supposed to do by stepping up in the pocket and looking downfield. A receiver had just worked his way open in the Falcons' zone coverage. 

While the box score credits Mariota with an interception and fumble, the quarterback couldn't do anything but smile about what happened through his first two series. He should have been smiling. It's a preseason game. It was funny. His career wasn't over after a couple of miscues. This exact approach can make the native Hawaiian a special quarterback. 

Prior to the NFL draft, concerns arose about Mariota's laid-back personality. He wasn't considered a demonstrative leader, and this was seen as a negative because of the position he played. 

This same cool and collected demeanor allowed him to come back onto the field for a third series and lead the Titans to a touchdown. 

Even the worst start imaginable didn't rattle Mariota. It's a testament to his mental toughness and his overall approach to the game. 

A massive problem through the first two drives became predictable play-calling from head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Instead of building confidence in his quarterback with a few handoffs on first and second down, the plan backfired and placed his neophyte signal-caller in obvious passing situations. 

Also, Whisenhunt might have taken Mariota out of his comfort zone with so many snaps under center, as ESPN.com's Field Yates noted: 

Field Yates @FieldYates

Something different: Marcus Mariota took just 5 snaps under center during final year at Oregon. He took 9 in his 1st preseason NFL quarter.

Predictable play-calling and not putting a player in a position to succeed are a recipe for disaster, and that's exactly what happened to Mariota during his first two professional series. 

The third series proved to be very different. It didn't have a promising start, though. 

After two run plays on first and second down, Mariota faced a 3rd-and-12 from Tennessee's 18-yard line. One throw was all it took for the tide to turn. 

The Oregon product threw a laser into a small window to Harry Douglas for a 17-yard gain. Two plays later, Mariota connected with Douglas again for 17 more yards.

As the second quarter began, Mariota surveyed the field before he found tight end Anthony Fasano open for a nine-yard completion. Finally, on 3rd-and-3 from Atlanta's 32-yard line, the quarterback completed a short pass to running back Antonio Andrews for a catch and run of 26 yards. 

Dexter McCluster capped the drive with a six-yard touchdown scamper. 

During the drive, Mariota completed four straight passesall from shotgunand the play-calling was far less predictable.

Plus, the quarterback's skills, which made him a top-five pick in the first place, were on full display. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah came away impressed with the types of throws Mariota made during the sequence: 

Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks

Heck of a drive by Mariota. Variety of throws, showing velocity & touch.

What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster really wasn't. 

Once the finally tally was made, plenty of positives could be taken away from Mariota's performance. In fact, the rookie quarterback finished 7-of-8 passing for 94 yards with the interception serving as his only incomplete pass.

Bleacher Report's Dan Hope provided a breakdown for each of the Titan's tosses: 

Dan Hope @Dan_Hope

Passing chart for Marcus Mariota's preseason debut vs. #Falcons. Interception was only incompletion in three series. http://t.co/XTDU9NhdxB

Of course, the narrative regarding Mariota's first start will be built around his mistakes. His turnovers, though, pale in comparison to the impressive nature of his final drive. 

Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the game (via John Glennon of the Tennessean), “I would say what I hope to see from Marcus is more of the same, that he continues to grow in that position. He really did a nice job after [the turnovers] of playing. He played strong period of plays after that. He was seven-of-eight [overall], did a nice job in the pocket and made some really good throws.”

Mariota's resiliency in the face of major adversity should serve as the primary takeaway from the Titans' first preseason contest. The quarterback's attitude was flawless even if his play wasn't.