Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: QB Marcus Mariota’s (Titans) Lesson in Pocket Management from Tom Brady

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines a pair of drops from the 2018 Titans-Patriots game—one from Marcus Mariota and one from Tom Brady—and shares the lesson Brady imparts on tape that Mariota must learn to raise his overall game. 

Marcus Mariota has become a competent NFL starter. Competency does not meet the expectations of many teams and its fanbases—especially when these entities expect selections with early first-round grades to become Pro Bowl players.

Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to have ever stepped onto an NFL field. He’s a sixth-round pick who has transformed his frame from dad-bod-in-training to fitness model in training.

Even so, Brady will never have the athletic ability of Mariota. As controversial as it may sound, it’s how Mariota regards these athletic gifts that have become a barrier separating him from elite quarterbacks like Brady.

Mariota has always been fast and agile and, at least since high school, coaches and teammates have urged him to use his legs to extend plays. This has worked in high school and for most of his college career. It has even led to highlight-reel moments as an NFL starter—especially during his rookie year when opponents didn’t have a lot of film on him.

Mariota wasn’t, isn’t, and will never be Russell Wilson. He’s fast but he lacks great vision in the pocket. He’s good at making the first man miss, but he’s not as competent at avoiding the second or third opponent.

As Eric Stoner and I have noted, and Mark Schofield recently reiterated, some quarterbacks are primarily task-oriented/bakers and others are creative-intuitive/chefs. Mariota and Brady are both task-oriented bakers at the position.

The difference is that Brady processes tasks faster and knows his limitations. Mariota still regards himself as a top athlete and processes tasks slower as a result of leaning on his athletic ability that is no longer as consistently a game-changer.

Mariota is still a great athlete, but he hasn’t gained the wisdom about what his game lacks, which is the conceptual and processing skills to make the most of his athletic ability in the way that Wilson or Aaron Rodgers does. Both of these players are intuitive-creative chefs.

It’s about the way these players execute more than it is about athletic ability. Philip Rivers runs like three-legged moose with a hoof stuck in quicksand but he’s creative and buys time more effectively in the pocket than Mariota.

Brady has become a competent athlete at the position, but he knows that most of the things he does that may appear creative on the surface are actually processing tasks at a high rate of speed. He has maximized the precision of his mind and body and linked them as much as possible in a scheme that he’s owned in the NFL since he was a rookie.

When he buys time or throws the ball away, it’s textbook and logical. His movements are efficient and by the book. He has the wisdom to know what he can and cannot do. If Mariota wants to ascend beyond the tier of competency, he must accept that what many recognize as one of his strengths is too often a limitation.

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