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Bair Mail: On Drake London, Arthur Smith and how Falcons can get even better

The Falcons have a huge NFC South clash with host Tampa Bay coming up on Sunday. 

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith acknowledged that Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a big one. If the Falcons win it, they'll be in sole possession of first place in the NFC South nearly halfway through the season.

It feels just a bit bigger with New Orleans dropping Thursday night's game against Jacksonville. The Falcons will look to win their first road game since Week 3 last year and their first division road win since Dec. 2021.

If they can do it, it would be a big deal. It would also erase painful recent memories and some pressure on key Falcons after dropping a very winnable home game to the Washington Commanders.

We'll answer some questions about important offensive positions and a question about how the defense can get better in this Friday morning Bair Mail:

Jon Doroski from Savannah, Ga.

We saw Drake London put an awesome game together. How do you think he has been better this year than he was as a rookie?

Bair: Drake London has been really good over the last two weeks, especially against Washington. He had nine receptions for 125 yards – including 32 after the catch – on 12 targets. Looking at his route chart, he did tons of damage on in-breaking routes where he can out-leverage a defender and extend plays with room to run. That's a definite improvement, though he has always been a tough route runner with great body control.

Overall, he has been really good on go and post routes, with seven catches for 172 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets in those scenarios.

And, as you can see below, London makes 50-50 balls look more like 80-20.

While he sure looks like a true No. 1 receiver, Desmond Ridder said the biggest difference in London is between the ears.

"I think for Drake where it comes is his leadership, but I think what a lot of you guys might not see sometimes is just the mental stability of it," Ridder said. "Sometimes, whether he doesn't get a ball or misses one ball or makes a bad play or whatever it was, like kind of in the games last year where we get into those games and he might catch a ball, and then he'd get it stripped from him or whatever it was, then you see him down in the dumps. I think what he's done a really good job of this year is being able to kind of take more of that neutral thinking and kind of stay neutral and never try to get too high and never try to get too low, and he's done a good job of keeping that energy all game."

Rax Seay from Jefferson, Ga.

Hey Bair, love the work. Do you think a good reason for some of our losses could come from Coach Smith calling plays and not playmakers. This isn't a knock on him but I think we win easily if he designs plays around Drake, Kyle, Bijan etc. I think there's too much talent on this team to not give them ample enough opportunities to make plays.

Bair: Got a ton of questions about Arthur Smith's play calling over the last few days and this was the most polite. Ha. I kid, I kid. Sorta. You all really want him to hand over the reins. I'll answer this one the way I responded to calls for his firing: There's no way that's happening.

This is Smith's Falcons offense. While some question its creativity, with all due respect, that's crazy. There's a ton of it in this scheme, with motions and blocking schemes and route combinations. If executed well, it should score consistently over the long haul. If I'm to offer a criticism – I genuinely like the system – I think he can be a bit reactionary from one game to another in terms of wanting to get certain players the ball and working against his previous game tape.

Overall, though, he designs plays to use his player's strengths, both in terms of skill players and those up front. I agree that the operation is generally crisp and wasn't in Week 7. While the offense is better with Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson leading the way, Desmond Ridder pointed out on Wednesday that, when you work outside the scope of the play, things can go awry.

If you look at the last two weeks, the Falcons have produced tons of yards, but not enough points. Eliminate critical errors and this low-scoring average should head north. If it doesn't do that, especially over a longer term, then criticism will increase. We aren't anywhere close to that yet.

JD Lewis from Atlanta

What do you perceive could potentially up our defense to greater heights?

Bair: Good question, JD. I hope you don't mind me editing the question to home in on the crux of your point. I think this defense has been pretty good, especially on critical downs and when defending short fields.

Opponents are averaging 3.7 yards per carry and the third-lowest passing yards this season. We all know their sack numbers are low. So is their quarterback pressure percentage, per NFL Next Gen Stats. I agree with some defensive linemen I spoke to for my Falcons Daily — keep an eye out for that later Friday afternoon — that the pass rush's best is yet to come, but it isn't quite good enough to this point.

I like the construction of the secondary, with Jessie Bates leading the way and cornerbacks A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah and Dee Alford. I like linebackers Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen, who is hurt, but part of the team's long-term future. I like Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata on the defensive interior. I like the edge presence as well, but a true alpha edge rusher would be a welcome addition. I wouldn't give up crazy draft capital to get one. In fact, I would use it to get one. If the coaching staff can continue to develop the talent on hand and supplement it just a little bit, I think it can be a force to be reckoned with.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, presented by Fast Twitch.

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