NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marcus Mariota came into the league with a steady pulse rate and a preternatural calm about him.
Those don’t change when he leads the Tennessee Titans' offense inside the 20-yard line, and that's not the case for many young quarterbacks.
On a shrunken field, operating with less space, Tennessee’s second-year quarterback has been especially good. It’s perhaps the surest sign, among many right now, that he has a big future ahead of him.
Only Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who’s in his eighth year, has done better work in the red zone since Mariota came into the league.
Mariota has a 116.3 passer rating, with 30 touchdown passes, no interceptions, a completion percentage of 65.4 and has taken just two sacks.
Those trump his numbers on the rest of the field: an 81.2 rating, 10 TDs, 18 interceptions, a 62.7 percentage and 50 sacks.
“He’s a very patient kid,” said former Steelers, Jets and Titans quarterback Neil O’Donnell. “It’s hard to rattle him. He has a way of slowing down the game, which helps in the red zone.
“That’s hard to teach. It's a instinct, like going against full-court pressure in basketball. Some players want the ball in their hands, others do not want to touch it.”
Mariota certainly wants it and thrives with it.
“I think it just comes down to the coaches have done a great job week-in and week-out, preparing us for the red zone,” he said. “Everyone's making quick decisions. Everyone is communicating, identifying what we're seeing.
“It's resulted in a lot of good plays. If we could continue that going forward, there's always an emphasis of taking care of the football. You're in a range of scoring points and you don't want to lose that.”
Mariota has the second-most fumbles in the NFL since the start of the 2015 season with 17. But only one of them has come inside the 20-yard line.
Twenty-one quarterbacks have thrown more passes in the red zone during Mariota’s career, partly because he missed four games his rookie year, and partly because the Titans weren’t there often enough as they struggled, particularly last season.
The Titans have started scoring more touchdowns from outside the red zone, though, so a smaller percentage of their scoring plays are coming from close range.
This team is confident about a lot right now. Mariota's decision-making on the field's most valuable real estate is at or near the top of the list.