Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota may not have been exactly lighting up the stats sheet this season, but nevertheless he has so far authored a 6-3 record for his team, which is in control of its division. In two days, however, they will face arguably the toughest opponent they will come across all season in the Pittsburgh Steelers, at Heinz Field.
Like the Steelers, the Titans have also been winners of their last four games, though they have not necessarily taken the same path. Both teams have turned more heavily toward the running game this season, but the Titans lack Pittsburgh’s defensive numbers, allowing nearly a touchdown more per game.
While they have one of the top 10 rushing offenses in the league, however, the offense is still driven by Mariota, even if he himself has not been as big of a contributor in that department as you might typically expect from more mobile quarterbacks, rushing for 181 yards to date on 32 carries.
He is completing about 62 percent of his passes, on which he is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt, but he has only thrown seven touchdown passes this season, even if his six interceptions seems quite reasonable in comparison to Ben Roethlisberger’s.
What he does have are the so-called intangibles that ‘winners’ possess. In three of their past four games—again, all wins—Mariota has led the offense on three game-winning drives, including Sunday’s win in which he rushed for a season-high 51 yards.
He nearly scored on one of those rushing attempts, diving for the left pylon only to be driven out of bounds at the last second. But it was likely on those rushing attempts on which he suffered or aggravated both a shoulder and an ankle injury that will likely see him limited in practice despite the team’s belief that he will be ready to play.
The third-year quarterback is not quite putting up the numbers that he had in his first two seasons, but he has remained relatively effective, and he is preparing to take on a secondary that may well be without two of its starters.
A secondary, and a defense, that his own defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, can surely tell him all about, given that he pretty much built it. This will be LeBeau’s first time back in Heinz Field for a game since his departure from the team a few years ago, but that deserves a topic of its own.
As for Mariota, I think it would be wise to look beyond the numbers and not underestimate him, which, based on comments that I have received, seems to be a not uncommon trend. He and his Titans are one of the only two teams remaining on Pittsburgh’s schedule with both a winning record and a healthy starting quarterback.