I live in Nashville. I am a huge sports’ fan. Therefore, I listen to a lot of sports’ talk radio. Too much, to be honest. And it is driving me crazy.
After the Tennessee Titans had won two games in a row, and clawed their way to a 3-3 record for the season, too many of the local shows were starting to talk playoffs.
Playoffs?!? (I won’t bore you with the whole Jim Mora bit. I’m sure you’ve heard it many times.)
While I enjoyed hearing the local guys say nice things about my favorite team, I couldn’t help but be a little annoyed at the sudden over-the-top enthusiasm and confidence. While I do believe the Titans are a much better team than they have been in years, this is still an average team fighting to become something better. Playoffs shouldn’t be discussed until the final game of the season if there is still some mathematical chance. The other reason it bothered me to hear all the playoff talk is that as soon as the Titans lost another game to any team other than one of the best teams in the league, the local shows were going to be all doom and gloom.
And they were. To be fair, not all of them fell into that trap. There were some moderate and balanced views. Still, there were a good number that used the loss to the Indianapolis Colts as a sign that Mike Mularkey is the worst coach in the NFL and that Marcus Mariota is terrible.
One show in particular really took a dive down the rabbit hole when it came to Mariota. I won’t name the show mainly because I don’t want to give them extra press. (Though, a nice, healthy shaming wouldn’t go amiss.) Two of the three hosts used a big portion of their time discussing the game, came to the conclusion that Marcus Mariota is the same quarterback as Jake Locker, that there is no discernible difference between the two players. If I could punch another human being through the radio…
Before dissecting all that is wrong with that comparison, let me lay down a few foundational truths and perspectives:
- I loved Jake Locker. I wanted that kid to succeed more than any player I can remember in my life. I loved his low-key personality. I loved his mindset. I was a huge Locker fan.
- I did not want the Titans to draft Marcus Mariota. I felt that he was basically the same QB as Locker, perhaps a little better. If Locker’s game did not translate into a successful NFL career, then why would Mariota be worth the 2nd overall pick in the draft?
Now, let’s take a look at how those things play into my current perspective.
- Jake Locker was an inaccurate and often injured quarterback. You cannot build a team around a player that misses as much or more than he plays. And you cannot build a team around a QB that does not pass over 60% in his career. The team was right in letting him walk at the end of his contract.
- Marcus Mariota is much better than I realized when he came out of college. He is a better pocket passer at this moment than I ever thought he would be in the NFL. He is smarter than I realized. The team was right in drafting him 2nd overall in 2015.
Now let’s look at the claim that Jake Locker and Marcus Mariota are the same player. (To be clear, this wasn’t a throw away comment by these two radio talkers. They argued it passionately with the other host. They even grew belligerent and dismissive when the other host attempted to prove to them that this was a very inaccurate statement based on the facts.)
Locker was a 57.5% passer in his 4 seasons in the NFL. He played a total of 30 games in those 4 seasons, missing many due to injury. He had a 3.8 Touchdown percentage. (That is: the percentage of his passes that resulted in a touchdown.) He had a 3.1 interception percentage. His yard per attempt was 7.0 and his Quarterback rating came in at 79.0.
Mariota, in the 19 games played in his career, is a 61.9% passer. (Steve McNair was a 60.1 percent passer for his entire career. If Mariota maintains that percentage for his entire career, he will end up in the top 25 of all-time for completion percentage. This was a major point of disagreement with the radio guys. They argued that 61.9% is not any different than 57.5%. I guess they don’t understand numbers and stuff.) Mariota has a 5.2 touchdown percentage, a 2.7 interception percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, and a 90.7 passer rating. All substantially better than Locker. He did miss four games in his rookie season, but even with that, still played more games in his rookie season than Locker ever played in a season in the NFL.
How do Mariota’s numbers stack up against some of his peers? On the other side of the field this Sunday stood Andrew Luck, the NFL’s golden boy. For his career – basically four seasons (he missed 9 games last season and has played in 7 this season) – Luck has a 58.9% completion percentage, a 4.8 touchdown percentage, 2.5 interception percentage, 7.1 yards per attempt, and an 86.5 passer rating. That means, that Mariota has better numbers through the first 19 starts of his career in 4 of those 5 important QB stats than the once and future king, Andrew Luck. Luck was clearly the better quarterback on Sunday, but it’s fair to point out that it was one of his best games ever and an average day for Mariota. Luck carried his team, something Mariota has done before and will need to do in the future, but was unable to do this Sunday.
I’ve included a simple chart showing these stats side-by-side. The red indicates the statistic where Mariota is number one in this comparison.
I think the stats and the facts speak for themselves: There are too many people in the media that are paid to know this stuff and they know less than a guy that writes about it in his free time. But the sad fact of the matter is, they are the ones with the voice and their completely asinine position is being heard by thousands, and probably influencing a large percentage of them. The doom and gloom about Marcus Mariota is not justifiable at this point, and it borders on outright stupidity.
Here is what I know about the loss against the Colts:
- Mariota has to play better. Quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame in the NFL, but that is the nature of the business. Mariota was not great in this game and his mistakes cost the team. He was not bad though. And he did lead the team to a game tying score and then led them on a game winning drive. He did enough to win this game. Sadly, the team needed him to do more, and if he is going to be the franchise QB, he will have to do more from time to time.
- The defense was not good. The Titans do not have the secondary to win games. They need their pass rush to generate pressure to be successful. The pass rush did not do its job. Going up against a poor Colts’ offensive line, they should have been able to generate more than two sacks. That will not win you many games in this league.
- Once again, special teams cost the team. Missing an extra point due to a bad hold and then not recovering the onside/squib kick which resulted in 3 points for the Colts is completely unacceptable. I have said it before, but it needs to be repeated: The Tennessee Titans have a very slim margin for error. If their special teams is costing them points, they will have a hard time winning many games.
- The coaches need a share of the blame. They asked Mariota to throw the ball 37 times even though the game was close and they were averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the run game. They did not roll out Mariota or call enough run plays for him. They decided that they needed to throw the ball a lot to beat the Colts, instead of doing what they do best. They need to game plan better and call better plays as the game develops.
The Tennessee Titans are 3-4. They play in two days against Division foes, the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s another must-win game for the Titans. They have a chance to get to .500 again. They have a chance to top their win total from the entire 2015 season. They have a chance to prove to their fans that they are improving. That is the perspective they need to have.