Monday, 14 September 2015

First Impressions - Mariota v Winston

Perfect debut for Mariota

You work all of your college career for a day on the NFL turf. You are entrusted by a franchise who select you above 200 of the rest of your collective peers to be the face of the franchise, the salvation from obscurity.  And it ends in either victory or defeat, one way or another there will be a winner.  That is the beauty of American sport - the decisiveness and finality of it.  No draw, no sharing of the points. There will be a winner by sudden death, shootout or overtime.  You win no matter what.

You work your way through college for a day in the sun. A day to remember. 

For the top 2 selections in the NFL draft, you could not have had two more contrasting days for Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.  The only time they played each other in college was in last year's National Championship when Mariota's Oregon Ducks beat Winston's Florida State Seminoles 59-20. It was Winston's only college loss in 27 starts.  Now Mariota has handed him his only NFL loss, as he and the Tennessee Titans were victorious 42-14 on the road in Tampa Bay.

Mariota hit a 52 yard touchdown in his first series to Kendall Wright, this would be his first of four Touchdowns on his NFL debut.  

Have the Titans found their man?

Mariota looked composed and assured in the pocket, meaning he got good OL protection and Ken Whisenhunt played to his strengths of playing a quick tempo with packages similar to his days in Oregon and allowing him a quick release at the line of scrimmage, to those in the slot. This allowed receivers like Wright (who had 101 yards off of just four receptions) to gain yards after the catch running through that gap between linebackers and safeties when spaced out. Mariota only had to throw 16 times, this is good management of his expectations, do not force him to throw the ball too much and mistakes may not happen.

Unanswered questions remain about him once he feels pressure and is pushed outside of the pocket, and barring in mind next week they are away to the  Cleveland Browns he should be able to maintain the momentum against the sorry Browns team who lost 31-10 on the road to the New York Jets.

Baptism of fire for Winston
As for Famous Jameis, he might not be famous for much longer, but that would be cruel after only one game.  His first pass in the NFL was returned for a pick 6 by the Titans' Cody Sensabaugh for 26 yards, the sort of moment that means all the momentum is with Tennessee and made it almost impossible for the Bucs to wrestle it back as the Titans built up a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and eventually won by 42-14.  

Jameis famously won a lot of games in his second year at Florida State from positions of adversity and deficit but the first pass is all on him as he misread his receiver's route and the cornerback Sensabaugh came in underneath to make a good play. As for the second interception by Deiontrez Mount, again Winston is at fault for a shallow pass that did not get over the linebacker.

Are the Bucs all at sea?
To be realistic, Winston could only do so much as the Tampa defence allowed Mariota to look good on his debut leaving Winston with too much to do as they played catch up.

There is hope for Tampa Bay and Winston as they travel to New Orleans this week and while both teams are transforming, the Saints little signs of a defensive improvement in their loss on the road to the Arizona Cardinals, their secondary got blitzed by Carson Palmer for 3 touchdowns and 307 yards in the air.  Jameis has probably better recievers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, so there is hope as they face a division rival albeit on the road; and in Austin Sefarin-Jenkins much like many QBs he has found a nice reliable target to aim for, the tight end finished with 2 touchdowns for 110 yards off of five receptions.

On first impressions, you see Mariota as a calm presence at the line, in control of his emotions making good decisions in the pocket emphasized by his TD pass to Delanie Walker between three Bucs defenders.  Winston meanwhile seemed a bit riled by the occasion, not overawed but his decision making was poor on occasion and he showed a lack of movement to get out of the pocket initially which led to him not being able to show his athleticism he is renowned for.

This is not saying it was a mistake to draft Winston first over Mariota, that would be too knee-jerk after one game or after one quarter as many on social media did on Sunday; the jury is still out. 

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