How Marcus Mariota Led an Unlikely Comeback Drive Against the Lions
In a 16-game season, every win matters, and giving away victories always hurts. When your team has it in the bag, it's even worse.
That was the case for the Detroit Lions in Week 2.
Just 16 minutes of game time later, Matthew Stafford threw an interception to Perrish Cox that sealed a 16-15 victory for the Titans. The 93.39-percent win probability was the highest for any losing team in Week 2, and only the San Diego Chargers' 97.67 percent mark in Week 1 was a higher mark for a losing team so far in 2016.
In an overall sloppy game, the Lions let near certain victory slip away to a team many consider, including our algorithms, to be one of the worst teams in the league.
Part of it was penalties. Detroit was called for 17 penalties for a total of 138 yards, one more yard than the Lions had rushing in the game. The Titans, for their part, added in 12 penalties and 83 yards of their own. Not only were there many flags, but they also came at costly times for Detroit. Two came on back-to-back plays late in the second quarter, both of which negated touchdowns and eventually set up a 1st-and-goal from the 26-yard line.
When the Lions could have taken a 16-3 lead heading into halftime, they settled for a 12-3 lead instead after a field goal.
But this isn’t all on the Lions. With the game on the line, the Titans needed a big drive down down by five, and that’s exactly what their quarterback gave them.
There's Something About Marcus
When the Titans got the ball with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, they had a 21.16 percent chance of winning. Marcus Mariota then proceeded to lead Tennessee on a 13-play, 83-yard drive that took up 5:51 of game time for the third game-winning drive and fourth-quarter comeback of his career.
That is notable because the Titans have only won four games with Mariota as the starter.
Overall, Mariota was solid during the day -- by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Mariota’s 0.18 Passing NEP per drop back was just 17th among quarterbacks in Week 2 -- but he could not have been more perfect on the game-winning drive.
During the last drive, the Titans mostly let Mariota be Mariota, and it worked. Four of Tennessee’s first six plays of the drive were run under center, but as the Titans found themselves with a bigger need to gain yards, Mariota was placed in shotgun.
One of the biggest plays of the drive was a 3rd-and-1 near midfield on Tennessee’s 48. For the conversion, the Titans dipped their toes into some spread concepts, lining up five wide in 11 personnel with the three receivers to the right and Delanie Walker and DeMarco Murray to the left. Murray was able to get open in the flat, and the play gained eight yards for a win probability shift of 15.75 percent. (Video courtesy NFL Game Pass.)
The following play was also somewhat exotic, with three wide and both Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield. Murray ran straight up the seam from the backfield and gained 22 yards and 8.97 percent of win probability.
Four plays later, the Titans were facing 4th-and-4 from Detroit’s nine-yard line. The game was going to change either way on this play, and the Titans benefitted with Mariota fitting a ball into the tightest of windows to find Andre Johnson for the touchdown. The touchdown gave Tennessee a 16-15 lead and an 81.33 percent chance of winning the game -- a 47.94-percent increase.
Mariota was nine for nine passing on the drive, and seven of his drop backs resulted in positive NEP. He actually gained more Passing NEP (7.83) on the final drive than he ended with for the game (6.35).
There’s still a comfort zone that needs to be found between what Mariota does well and whatever plan Mike Mularkey has for the Tennessee offense.
For the final drive, the reigns were given to the quarterback without much exotic or smashmouth to it, and the Titans had their best drive of the year for their first win.
Cooter's Cause for Concern
This game also gives pause to those fully invested in the Jim Bob Cooter Revolution for the Lions offense, not just because of the result, but for how the unit looked for most of the game. Yes, there were the called-back touchdowns that would have bumped up some metrics, but the offense wasn’t particularly impressive on Sunday.
A week after Matthew Stafford led all quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back (0.58) with a 65 percent Success Rate -- the percentage of plays that result in positive NEP -- Stafford finished 22nd at 0.02 with a Success Rate below 40 percent. In Week 2, only Jameis Winston and Alex Smith had worse Success Rates.
Part of this was the Lions trying to take a few more shots down the field, which, in theory, is good, but they didn’t quite connect. The short, easy passes also weren’t coming as often as they did Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, though there were also some drops along the way. Stafford finished with just 6.5 yards per attempt after putting up 8.7 last week on one fewer attempt.
The Colts’ secondary was bad and injured in Week 1, but even with that caveat, the Lions appeared to be continuing on the path they took in the second half of 2015 after Cooter took over as offensive coordinator. The Titans weren’t injured, but they don’t have the greatest secondary in the league. Last week, they allowed Shaun Hill to pass for 0.30 Passing NEP per drop back, which was 10th-best for quarterbacks even with no touchdowns included.
Detroit’s next two games come against division opponents on the road against the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, so if there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, this week would be a good time to do it. For the Lions’ sake, they need to hope the performance that allowed the Titans to get back into this Week 2 game is not a lasting one.