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Analysis: Speed kills and Marcus Mariota proves he could be lethal

We break down the new Tennessee Titans’ quarterback first ever NFL Touchdown.

It's all in the head -- and the arm -- for Marcus Mariota.
It's all in the head -- and the arm -- for Marcus Mariota.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 8.40pm

THERE ARE GOOD and bad ways to start your NFL career.

There are any number of bad ways. You could tear an ACL. You could get a concussion. You could throw a pick six on your very first play from scrimmage. Hi there Jamies Winston.

A good way is to throw four touchdowns, just three incompletions and show glimpses — albeit from a very limited sample size — that you could be extremely successful in this league.

It’s far too early to get carried away with Marcus Mariota at this stage. He was, after all, playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who look like they’ll be picking number one overall again next year. That said, he showed great pocket-poise, was accurate in his passing and read — but more importantly adapted to — virtually everything the defence showed him.

Today, we’ll look at his very first NFL Touchdown and the speed with which he takes decisions and executes plays.

First, here’s how it looked on TV:

Source: CBS/NFL.com

Pre-snap read defence

As you’ll know from last season’s NFL analysis, we normally look at the offence first but today, like Mariota, it’s crucial to look at what the defence is doing.

As you can see below, the Bucs are in their base 4-3 defence with four defensive linemen (red), three linebackers (green) and four defensive backs (yellow) playing the Cover 2 formation.

Source: NFL Gamepass

At its most basic Cover 2 involves two deep safeties — the two players behind the 40-yard line — whose job is, in theory, to protect against the big play. The four defensive linemen’s job is to rush the quarterback/running back with the remaining seven players dropping back to protect the pass.

This makes it a very good defence to run a read-option play against.

Pre-snap read offence:

Source: NFL Gamepass

As you can see above, the Titans are in their 21 formation on offence — two running backs (blue) and one tight end (black) — and are running what’s called a ‘packaged play’.

At its most basic, the read-option allows the quarterback to change the play from a pass to a run or vice versa depending on what key personnel on the defence — usually a defensive end or outside linebacker — do after the ball is snapped.

This decision takes place at the ‘mesh-point’ — the point at which the quarterback puts the football into the running back’s chest. Here is the ‘mesh-point’ on this particular play.

Source: CBS/NFL

After the Snap

Pre-snap, the Titans will be pretty happy with what they see on defence. With Cover 2 in place, they can still commit to either a run or passing play.

Indeed, as you can see, they were set up for a nice gain on the run if Mariota decided to hand off the ball to Dexter McCluster (22) as the other running back — Bishop Sankey (20) — and offensive line had done a good job creating a gap for a probable first down.

Source: NFL Gamepass

Source: NFL Gamepass

However, you’ll notice at the ‘mesh-point’, Mariota has not taken his eyes off the Sam (strong side) linebacker Lavonte David (red) who gets caught between two stools.

He doesn’t quite bite on the run, but he doesn’t quite believe that Mariota is going to throw the ball either which allows Kendell Wright (13) get behind him.

Had he dropped back to where he was supposed to (green) then Mariota may have opted to hand the ball off and the touchdown may never have been scored.

Source: CBS/NFL

So convincing was Maritoa at the ‘mesh-point’ he also takes the other two linebackers — Kwon Alexander (58) and Danny Lansanah (51) — as well as the safety Bradley McDougald (30) — out of the play and, at that stage, the result is an inevitable touchdown.

Source: NFL Gamepass

Indeed, at the point Mariota releases the football, there isn’t a single Buccaneers defender looking at the touchdown scorer.

Source: NFL Gamespass

Conclusion

Some of the blame for this touchdown is undoubtedly on the Tampa Bay defence. They are going to concede a lot of scores this year.

However, Mariota deserves praise not just for his quickness of thought, but for how quickly he releases the football once he’s taken the decision to throw.

From snap to throw is just 1.7 second. Even more impressively, from the ‘mesh-point’ to the throw is just 0.8 seconds giving the defence virtually no time to react.

Originally published at 1pm.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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