Going 80 yards in the NFL can be very difficult to do, especially three, four or five yards at a time.
That was part of the reason for the Titans early struggles this season, they just did not get any big plays.
Through their first 8 games this year they only had 18 plays of 20 yards or more. That’s combined!!! Run and pass!
Sunday in their rout of New England the offense erupted for 7 of them and all of them were created by quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mariota had a 20-yard run, a 21-yard reception and 5 pass completions over 20 yards (3 of them to Corey Davis).
It should be no surprise the Titans scored a season-high 34 points.
So, how did they do it? How did these magical plays suddenly appear? The answer comes from two areas in my estimation.
First and where I always start with offensive football is the run game. The Titans rushed for 150 yards and have averaged 146 yards rushing the last 3 weeks.
That means the Patriots had to stack the line with seven and even eight players to try and slow down Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, and Mariota. That leaves defensive backs with more one on one scenarios and puts linebackers and safeties in a world of hurt when trying to diagnose play action.
In other words, running the ball opens up the whole playbook.
Then there is Mariota, who has completed 71.7% of his passes the last 3 weeks averaging 235 yards per game with 5 touchdowns and just 1 interception. He’s been accurate and his receivers are finally catching the ball and making plays.
Last week in Dallas, we also started to see Mariota add another feature to the Titans attack. He has always been able to create plays with his legs when nothing is there, but those plays are changing. Instead of simply tucking and running Mariota is keeping his head up and looking for receivers who are learning to use the time to outrun defenses and find seems.
On the Titans very first offensive play against the Patriots, Mariota stepped up in the pocket, he could have run for a first down, but instead while he glided toward the line of scrimmage Corey Davis popped up over the middle and Mariota delivered a 24-yard strike
Bang, instant big play and the Titans were instantly in the Red Zone.
Head coach Mike Vrabel has been saying for weeks he would like to see Mariota extend plays. It has clearly been a point of emphasis and Mariota says it has just come with time, “Week in and week out, if you’re able to do that, it’s going help. Sometimes it just comes down to – it’s like playing pickup basketball. It’s just a feel thing. Those guys, the receivers and tight ends, have done a great job of finding the open lane, finding some open space, and have created some big plays off of it.”
The Titans first TD against the Pats was only 4 yards, but it also came as Mariota rolled to his right and looked for Jonnu Smith who flowed across the field with him and broke free for an easy touchdown pass.
It is the “unscripted” that can take Mariota to another level. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger have made a living making huge plays out of chaos and Mariota can follow suit.
It does not happen overnight, but it is starting to happen. It is just another area worth watching as Mariota develops with his new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur and the Titans fight for a spot in the NFL Playoffs.
They will need a lot more big plays than they got the first eight weeks to get there and Sunday was a very, very good start.