TAMPA, Fla. -- On a phenomenal passing day, with four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, one stat for Marcus Mariota might be underplayed:
Two rushing attempts for 6 yards.
Mariota is a speedy and smart runner, and incorporating that element of his talent into his NFL game is something coach Ken Whisenhunt has pledged to do.
But in three quarters of action in a 42-14 blowout of the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, Mariota executed a game plan that put him in excellent spots. He barely felt the need to take off, and Whisenhunt was not compelled to call for the quarterback to take off.
The defenses will get tougher and as they get film on Mariota, they will have more to counter him. But the Titans, too, will have a counter moving forward, as they didn’t call for him to take off in his debut. And he wasn’t compelled to do it on the rare plays in which things might have broken down.
His mobility did serve as a threat that helped one key play work.
Facing first-and-10 from Tampa’s 20, Mariota faked a handoff to Dexter McCluster and began running hard upfield to the left. As the defense considered if he was taking off, he threw to tight end Anthony Fasano along the left sideline and Fasano gained 18 yards, setting up Mariota’s fourth TD pass, to Delanie Walker.
“It was one of those things that we practiced all week, and it was a concept that I had run previously at the University of Oregon,” Mariota said. “It was very comfortable for me to go out there and do that, and it was good to see success out of it.”
Said Whisenhunt: “It’s one of the plays that we’ve worked on -- you guys have seen them in training camp; we didn’t show them in the preseason. Different variations of it, Marcus lets you do it.”
But Whisenhunt didn’t want to get carried away with a discussion of option-style stuff. He quickly counterbalanced talk of that play by pointing to Mariota’s first pass, a 22-yard dart to Walker over the middle on third-and-10.
That throw into a small window was that of a quintessential pocket quarterback.
Please don’t count it as any level of second-guess of a quarterback who was practically flawless, but I did see one occasion when he might have run with great results.
On a second-and-17 from the Titans' 13 early in the second quarter, he rolled right and launched a pass for Kendall Wright up the right side.
But in my notes, I wrote and circled, “Should have run.” He had a lot of room in front of him up the right side.
On this day, it didn’t matter.
On Sundays to come, he’ll likely make smart choices to run in a similar situation and plenty of other ones, making himself multidimensional in a way that can make him even harder to defend.