We're officially back from the bye week, ready for the seven massively important games to close out the 2023 campaign.
The Falcons just completed a rough stretch where they lost three straight winnable games and fell two games below the .500 mark and behind the Saints in the NFC South. There's enough time to get things turned around, but they'll have to overcome some obstacles and reverse some troubling trends to stack the wins required to claim the division.
Let's address some hot topics as we head into Saints week.
Alan Weakley from Roswell, Ga.
Hi, Scott. While one person does not - with notable, QB, and/or defensive standout "star" - determine a team's trajectory, one way or not another, how deeply do you believe the loss of Grady Jarrett inside has affected the team's D, of late? When a key player falls, other(s) pick up the slack, and the difference is felt, to a noticeable degree. Aside from Nate Landman & Kaden Elliss, who do you believe will step up to "set the tone" for improvement, on that side.
Bair: You bring up a great point, Alan, one that's worthy of kicking off this post-bye Bair Mail. I believe that Grady Jarrett's loss was profound both on the field and in the locker room. While he isn't much of a rah-rah guy, his presence can be felt at all times. He is the Falcons leader, the public face of the franchise on a local level. While there's plenty of leadership on the defensive side of the ball – Calais Campbell and Jessie Bates III can command a room – something feels missing without Jarrett around.
We've seen through social media that he has had surgery and is recovering well. Head coach Arthur Smith said we'll start to see Jarrett in Flowery Branch again when he's able.
While that can't come soon enough, there's no duplicating his on-field production. He's a player offenses scheme against, frequently with extra blockers that can now be devoted in other areas, especially toward fellow defensive tackle David Onyemata. Kentavius Street has been good playing inside after being acquired from the Eagles in trade, and there's depth to help out inside, but Jarrett can't be replaced. The Falcons will need others from other positions to step up without him.
Jimmy Brooks from Brunswick, Ga.
We are playing with a rookie quarterback; we are basically a very young team. We are heading in the right direction. Coach Smith is building a strong team 2 years back are talent was the worst in the NFL. We still need more speed on defense. This team is learning to win and we are. We have a rookie QB surrounded with young talent as well. We are heading in the right direction Blank needs to be patient and let this team grow. this is what I think Bair. We're building chemistry and direction, and this takes time. Just takes time. Pittsburgh should be our role model don't keep firing be patient. Smith is really building something good.
Bair: I think Jimmy brings up some good points here that haven't been expressed much in recent weeks, with large swaths of the fan base calling for Arthur Blank to fire head coach Arthur Smith. As The Athletic has reported, that's an unlikely scenario this season or next.
It's also true that Blank called 2023 the third year of a three-year plan, which rachets expectations. The next seven games are important for several reasons, including how the players and coaches respond to a rough patch, coming off of a bye.
All goals are still in front of the Falcons. They still control their fate. Can Smith get the offense going strong? Can the staff get the defense back on track? Smith will be afforded a level of patience as the season winds down. How he navigates this stretch will obviously be part of his body of work and evaluated thusly. But I agree with Jimmy here that more time should be given to build a foundation for sustained success.
Barry Wynn from Rex, Ga.
Here is a wild thought if the Falcons decided that Ridder is not your guy. What about trading a high pick for Justin Fields. If the Bears move on from him, could you see the Falcons making a play for Fields? He is from the Atlanta area.
Bair: Never say never, here Barry, but I'd have a tough time envisioning a scenario where the Falcons trade a high pick for Justin Fields. They had an opportunity to take him with a high pick back in 2021 and declined, going with Kyle Pitts instead. I can't see them doing that two years later, with him closer to a contract extension.
And, this is just me talking here, but I have durability concerns regarding a player who runs a ton and gets exposed to big hits on a regular basis. He's an exciting, talented player to be sure, but paying heavy amounts to someone who has missed some games and hasn't won a ton – though that's not entirely his fault – is concerning. That's why it would be tough to part with such a high pick for Fields when I could use one on a deep class of quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Call for questions
Submit your questions right here for inclusion in Wednesday's edition of Bair Mail.
Take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Arizona Cardinals during Week 10.