There were some concerns among NFL scouts that Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota might need a little time to adjust to the NFL game after coming out of an up-tempo offense at Oregon. As the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, he came to Tennessee with high expectations and didn’t disappoint.
As the Minnesota Vikings install their defensive game plan against the Titans, one of the primary objectives is to keep Mariota penned in the pocket because they have learned that he is at his most dangerous when he is on the move.
“You’ve got to contain him,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “You can’t let him escape through the gaps because that’s what he likes to do and that’s how he makes plays. You’ve got to rush him as a team with your front four and force him to stay in the pocket because he’s dangerous when he gets out in open space.”
The Vikings defense is built on aggressiveness and part of that is to bring pressure on mobile quarterbacks. The team has faced its share of quarterbacks that can extend plays. While quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers move in the pocket with the full intention of throwing, players like Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Mariota are double threats when on the move – capable of making big plays with their arms and their legs.
Tennessee has a habit of creating situations that get Mariota into space to make decisions whether to pass or run and it will be the job of the Vikings defense to recognize those moments when they arise and make sure to limit the running lanes for Mariota and make him one-dimensional.
“He’s a guy who can make plays on the move,” defensive tackle Tom Johnson said. “He throws well outside the pocket. They do a lot movement to put him in good position to make plays. We’ve got to be smart and locate the mismatches they’re looking to make and get after him. We have to contain him like we have with Russell and Cam before because he can be just as dangerous if you don’t keep him contained. We have to put him in bad situations and make him throw from inside the pocket.”
Just as there is pressure on the front four to keep Mariota in check, it isn’t always possible. He has the ability to buy time when he is on the move and put the pressure on the back end of the defense to stick with their receivers longer than they ordinarily would.
The Vikings are confident they can bring enough pressure to keep Mariota boxed in, but the defensive backs are wary that when he does escape, he is capable of making the big plays that can change the complexion of a game.
“Any time you have a mobile quarterback, you have to be prepared to cover your guy longer if the play gets extended,” safety Andrew Sendejo said. “We’re going to try to make sure he doesn’t get outside and keep plays alive, but when you have the mobility that he has, you have to be prepared for it because you know he’s going to get to the outside at times and will extend plays longer than you want. That’s what he does.”
That defensive backs have to ignore the clock in their head that tells them the play should be over when they’re often running with their backs to the line of scrimmage chasing down their assigned receiver.
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Veteran Captain Munnerlyn said there is a tendency to try to sneak a peek at the quarterback when a play is taking longer than it should. That is often when you lose containment and big plays happen over the top.
“We know when he escapes the pocket, we have to cover up,” Munnerlyn said. “We can’t got nosy (looking in the backfield). If you blitz him, you have to contain guys like him and Russell Wilson – which I learned the hard way. On the back end, you’ve got keep your eyes on your luggage. You’ve got to keep playing your guy until you hear the whistle.”
The Vikings have the kind of pressure defense that can rattle a young quarterback. They intend to show him looks he hasn’t seen live before and bring the heat to try to take away his primary strength. Mariota has a bright future in front of him, but for Sunday’s regular season opener, the Vikings’ goal is to bottle up Mariota in the box and make him a passer only. With all his talent, keeping him from moving to where he’s comfortable is going to be critical if the Vikings are to win their opener.