The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off against the Tennessee Titans this coming Sunday to kick off the 2015 NFL season. It just so happens that the Bucs and Titans owned the no. 1 and no. 2 picks in this year’s draft and both teams selected Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. Each fan base is anxious to see their new QB, both hoping their man will out-do the other.
After three starts in the preseason we have seen a lot of Jameis Winston. Marcus Mariota appeared in all four of the Titans preseason games, but Bucs fans may have not gotten the chance to really see what he has been doing.
Although they are very different players, Mariota and Winston have both made some mistakes and shown flashes of real potential. What should Bucs fans expect out of Mariota on Sunday and what can the Bucs do to stop him?
We all saw Mariota run the Oregon offense with great success for the last three years in college, and I think the Titans have tried to incorporate some of what he did there into their offense. Mariota threw a lot of quick passes during the preseason that got him plenty of easy completions.
Just like Winston, though, Mariota has had a tendency to lock in on his first read no matter what. This is fine when that player is open, but if he insists on forcing the ball when there’s not a opening, the Bucs could definitely make him pay.
The Titans didn’t call too many designed runs for Mariota in the preseason, but that could change in the regular season when the games actually count. But even though he wasn’t running out of the read-option a lot, Mariota still found ways to pick up yards with his legs.
Several times Mariota was able to evade intense pressure from the defense and either find an open receiver downfield or take off for a substantial gain. Even if the Bucs front four can get pressure on Mariota, it may be up to players like Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander to ultimately bring him down and prevent first downs on the ground.
Another similarity Mariota has to Winston is that neither have a very good offensive line in front of them. The Titans weren’t giving Mariota a lot of time to throw in the preseason and it showed. Mariota often stood way back in the pocket and wasn’t able to step up into it.
When Mariota did step up and go through his progressions he looked pretty good. However, when his O-line let the defense through Mariota often looked rattled (understandably) and that led to a few mistakes. His first INT came as he had to back peddle away from the pressure and he threw a bad screen pass that was easily picked off.
Mariota did throw a lot of passes over 15 yards and looked pretty impressive doing it, especially out of play action. We’ve seen Winston have success doing that and the Bucs defense will definitely have to be aware of when Mariota is actually handing the ball off and when he’s not.
The biggest thing the Bucs need to worry about in regards to Mariota is not letting him escape the pocket to extend the play. Whether its running for a first down himself or buying time for a receiver to get open as the play breaks down, Mariota has shown he can make things happen when he gets out of the pocket.
The Bucs will need a good push from their D-line on every play to get Mariota uncomfortable. If they can prevent him from stepping up in the pocket he will be forced to take sacks and eventually make mistakes while trying to extend the play.
Its been a long offseason, but now we will finally see how Winston and Mariota compare against each other. Winston will surely have his own struggles when the Bucs have the ball, but if his defense can force Mariota in to mistakes then Winston won’t have to do much more than manage the game to come out with a win.