This isn’t the Marcus Mariota anybody expected to see.
Mariota was supposed to come in and seamlessly replace Gardner Minshew as Jalen Hurts’ backup, but it’s been a rocky training camp for the second pick in the 2015 draft, and his performance Thursday night against the Browns in the Eagles’ second preseason game was a disaster.
“I was sloppy,” Mariota said postgame. “I can do a better job getting our guys operating cleaner and more efficiently. But that is what preseason is for. Kind of get some of that stuff ironed out. Clean off some of the rust. We’ll find ways to get better.”
Mariota overthrew receivers, missed badly all night, threw a ridiculous interception, took sacks he had no business taking and would have been shut out if not for a 56-yard Jake Elliott field goal.
Mariota played the entire first half and was 9-for-17 for 86 yards with an ungainly 42.8 passer rating. Including three sacks for 16 yards, he averaged a microscopic 4.1 net yards per pass attempt. For the sake of comparison, his career average is 6.9.
But the problem is that this wasn’t an isolated performance. Mariota has been shaky all summer.
“Taking it one day at a time,” the 29-year-old said. “There’s going to be good days. There’s going to be bad days. And just being able to learn from it, I think that’s what’s most important.
“For me in this role, I have to be able to just go out there and operate cleanly. I think that is what is great for me in these preseason games. It creates an opportunity for me to get real live reps. To get those experiences. If need be, if I have to come in, I can operate cleanly and just get in and out of the huddle and just making sure it’s running efficiently.”
Maybe he can, but so far he hasn’t.
You’d think a guy who’s started 74 NFL games – and won 34 of them – would be beyond this sort of scattershot performance against a bunch of Browns backups.
Head coach Nick Sirianni may be concerned inside, but outwardly he’s defending Mariota.
Which he has to do.
“It’s also us finding out what he does well too,” he said after the Eagles’ 18-18 tie with the Browns at the Linc. “What he sees well, what looks good to him. I know he didn’t play the way he wanted to tonight. … Obviously, not up to his standard, but it’s about us finding what works for him. And that’s just us learning him. That’s us working together to figure that out.”
The whole notion that the coaches are still learning what Mariota likes and doesn’t like, what he’s good at and what he’s not good at, kind of falls apart a bit when you watch Tanner McKee come in and operate the offense at a higher level. A much higher level.
Mariota has been sailing passes since the start of training camp nearly four weeks ago. That’s usually a sign of poor footwork, but Mariota said that’s not the case. In particular, his interception Thursday night sure seemed like a case of a quarterback struggling with his mechanics floating a ball with no zip into the middle of the field.
“No, I just think looking at it, just missed it,” he said. “Sometimes that’s what it is. When you take a look at tape you can kind of break down the mechanics, but right now, for me, I just missed the target.”
Mariota’s longest completion in two preseason games is a short pass that Olamide Zaccheaus turned into a 17-yard gain Thursday night.
Mariota has thrown 28 passes this preseason, none for 18 yards. McKee has thrown 38 passes, eight for at least 18 yards.
Why has McKee – who’s also new to this offense – been able to learn the scheme and execute so well when Mariota hasn’t?
Good question. But it doesn’t reflect well on Mariota that he’s been outplayed two games in a row by a rookie 6th-round pick.
Does the combination of Mariota’s struggles and McKee’s outstanding play mean McKee has a shot to unseat Mariota as Hurts’ backup?
“Way too early on this,” Sirianni said. “Marcus is our backup and pleased with the way Tanner is playing.”
Opening day is 23 days away. It won't be "way too early" for long.