Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the NFL and this is a storyline you’ll be sure to hear leading up to their divisional round game against the New England Patriots.
“The Patriots have struggled against mobile quarterbacks,” the Boston Globe declared. “Marcus Mariota could be the next mobile QB to flummox the Patriots,” SB Nation agreed. “Pats often struggle with mobile QBs,” Pro Football Talk tweeted.
The list goes on and on and the concerns about mobile quarterbacks is fair. Mobile quarterbacks are difficult for all defenses because they’re great at extending plays and allowing someone to get open through a backyard football-style improvisation.
The Patriots thrive on defending what they prepare for the opposing team to try and accomplish. But if the other team doesn’t even know what they’re trying to accomplish until after the play breaks down, then how can the Patriots prepare to stop it? Add in the fact that Mariota is accurate throwing the ball and that spells trouble for the New England defense.
“He actually knows when to run and when to pass the ball when scrambling,” Patriots free safety Duron Harmon said about Mariota. “It’s a very unique skill because a lot of guys, once they get scrambling, they’re not even looking downfield anymore. They’re just looking to run. But, he always has his eyes downfield, always knows when to run, when to throw the pass, and I would say his touch on the ball, too, that gets people open when he’s scrambling is really good.”
There are 19 quarterbacks over the past three seasons to throw the ball at least 200 times and average 15 or more rushing yards per game. There’s a clear divide in the talent of those that are capable of completing 60% or more of their passes and those that cannot.
Nine quarterbacks have rushed for 15 or more yards per game and have completed 60% or more of their passes. They include the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, Bills’ Tyrod Taylor, Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, Colts’ Andrew Luck, Titans’ Marcus Mariota, Chiefs’ Alex Smith, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz.
That’s a pretty incredible list that have a combined 6-13 record against the Patriots (I’m not counting Mariota’s 6-pass day against the Patriots in 2015 before he left with an injury). Of course Taylor and Luck are a combined 1-10 against the Patriots, so the other quarterbacks are 5-3. Fortunately for New England, 2 of those losses came against the Patriots in the playoffs.
Rodgers, Smith, Wilson, and Watson averaged 30.1 points in their eight games against the Patriots, completing 65.9% of their passes for an average of 302 passing yards per game, 9.1 yards per attempt, 2.5 touchdowns, and less than half an interception per game for a passer rating of 115.1. They also chipped in 22.5 rushing yards per game.
Meanwhile, Luck and Taylor combined to average 18.6 points per game, completing 56.1% of their passes for an average of 241 passing yards per game, 6.4 yards per attempt, 1.2 touchdowns, and 1.3 interceptions per game for a passer rating of 60.9. They also chipped in 22.3 rushing yards per game.
Quarterbacks that average 15 or more rushing yards per game, but complete less than 60% of their passes include the Panthers’ Cam Newton and 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, but also include the Browns’ DeShone Kizer, Cardinals’ Blaine Gabbert, CFL’s Johnny Manziel, Bears’ Mitch Trubisky, Jaguars’ Blake Bortles, 49ers’ C.J. Beathard, Colts’ Jacoby Brissett, and the Packers’ Brett Hundley.
That’s a pretty terrible list of quarterbacks and Newton, Kaepernick, and Bortles are the only ones to play the Patriots. Still, they’ve gone 3-2 against New England, completing 60.7% of their passes for an average of 239 yards per game, 8.23 yards per attempt, 2.8 touchdowns, and roughly half an interception per game for a passer rating of 110.5. They also chipped in 34.6 rushing yards per game.
So even the inaccurate passers have had success.
So we’ll find out pretty quickly if Mariota is of the same cloth as Rodgers and Wilson and Newton or as Luck and Taylor- and it’s pretty clear which film of quarterbacks playing the Patriots that Mariota should be watching.
“I think the main thing is we know how teams are trying to attack us because they’ll look at the success that other mobile quarterbacks might have had against us,” Harmon added.” So, we know we’re going to have to be ready to fix the mistakes that we might have had against those mobile quarterbacks. And, we know when you give up something on tape, a team is always going to try to test you there and see if you got the problem fixed, and if not, they’re going to keep running it. So, we’ve just got to look back and do a little self-scouting on ourselves and see where we’re vulnerable at when going against mobile quarterbacks.”
Back in the first four weeks of the season, the Patriots played Smith, Watson, and Newton and all three had incredible success against the Patriots, averaging 36 points per game. The trio completed 74.2% of their passes for an average of 328 yards per game, 10.2 yards per attempt, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception for a passer rating of 124.3. They also chipped in 29.3 rushing yards per game.
So Mariota will do his best to try and replicate their successes against New England.
Fortunately for the Patriots, they were able to get some late-season experience against Tyrod Taylor and held him to a 53.6% completion rate for a mere 346 passing yards in two games, no touchdown passes, 1 interception for a passer rating of 65.0. He also chipped in 24 rushing yards per game.
A lot of the success by Smith, Watson, and Newton was the result of poor communication by the Patriots secondary and the various question marks in the defensive front as Dont’a Hightower suffered an injury in the very first game.
Stephon Gilmore and the defensive backs are now all on the same page and Adam Butler and Deatrich Wise now have a whole season under their belt. The linebackers are still a concern, but hopefully Kyle Van Noy will be able to return and settle down the entire position group.
Teams have tried to stress the outside edges of the Patriots run defense because the linebackers haven’t shown an ability to consistently set the edge, ranking 32nd in the NFL at defending runs around the end for 2017 and allowing 6.56 yards per carry. Mobile quarterbacks are able to stretch the Patriots defense and delayed tosses to running backs can create a lot of space for the ball carrier- and could create opportunities for the 250-pound Derrick Henry to get a one-on-one against a much smaller defensive back.
So, ultimately, yes the Patriots do struggle against mobile quarterbacks, unless they’re named Andrew Luck or Tyrod Taylor. Saturday will reveal if Marcus Mariota joins that list.