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Bair Mail: On Marcus Mariota, Arthur Smith and Falcons passing game, Kyle Pitts and Drake London, plus Desmond Ridder

We focus on the Falcons passing game in this Monday mailbag

You're going to notice a theme in this Monday Bair Mail.

There were so many questions about the passing game, from Marcus Mariota to Drake London to Kyle Pitts and Desmond Ridder that I just chose to address all those topics at once.


I saw other queries about the defense and a banged-up secondary. I'll get to them, and whatever else you want to discuss, in the remaining mailbags heading into a Week 8 matchup against Carolina.

Let's get into it:

Kerry Miller from Centerville, Ga.

Scott, I am a big supporter of where the Falcons are going and what Smith is doing. However, when you are getting lit up like they were by the Bengals and you only throw the ball 13 times that seems counterproductive. Yes, I know Coach Smith wants to be a running team but late in the 3rd and into the 4th I was expecting to see more passes. Was this the plan? Was it lack of faith in MM1 (that 75yd bomb was a thing of beauty)? Did he feel is defense was done for and decide to just run off as much clock as he could? It just seemed odd to me.

Bair: I got this question a ton, Kerry. The lack of passing volume DOMINATED the postgame mailbag, with one of every two questions about this topic. Let Kerry's question represent so many of you wondering why the Falcons weren't throwing more down multiple scores in the second half.

Well, first of all, you have to possess the ball to throw a ton. They only had 18 plays in the second half. Of those 18 plays, seven were passes, three were sacks (where Mariota was trying to throw) and three more were Marcus Mariota runs, at least some of which weren't designed.

All told, they only gained 40 total yards over the last two quarters. What they needed were sustained second-half drives, because they weren't able to stop the Bengals attack.

I think we all have to look a bit deeper into the box score here before making a simple "run vs. pass debate." Let's also be crystal clear on one thing: play calling is not an issue. Arthur Smith and Dean Pees are excellent calling games.

This is about the identity of the team, how they operate. They are a running team that likes to control the tempo and the tone of games. They're good at it, too. They definitely run block better than they pass protect. They have an athletic quarterback who adds a unique element to the run game. They have physical backs who can break tackles.

Have they been a good passing team when they have thrown? Not really. They have flashed at times, but they have not been consistent enough to operate the way the Bengals did in Week 7, where they too defied convention and threw a ton with a multiple-score lead, deep into the second half.

Buc Maull for Atlanta

Mr. Bair…Big fan of your column, 1st time writing in. Please, PLEASE…can you explain to me how our two 1st round picks, Pitts and London go 3 for 9 and 1 for 9?

Bair: I think this is an interesting topic within a broad conversation about the passing game. Arthur Smith addressed it in his Monday press conference and brought up some great points. I won't dive deep into it here, because Tori McElhaney is writing a whole story on it for Wednesday's Falcons Daily, but here's the condensed version.

Don't mistake targets for lack of attention. Smith said Drake London and Kyle Pitts are primary targets in a play call at times when the ball goes elsewhere due to coverage or a look. The Falcons are working to create opportunities to get London and Pitts the ball. Smith is calling their numbers.

Smith didn't hide behind that either, saying the Falcons must be better getting the ball to those pass catchers in positions to make plays. That's true. Even if this is a run-first operation, throws need to find the team's biggest playmakers more often. No one disagrees with that point.

Donjulio Moore from Atlanta

When will it be Ridder time? Believe this kid gonna light it up.

Bair: I have declined to address this frequent question recently because my answer was always the same and there was no new information to report. I'll go back to it here, however, and keep with a whole Bair Mail theme of addressing the passing game. Why the heck not?

Smith was asked after Sunday's loss if there was a moment, when the Bengals game was officially out of hand, if he considered bringing Desmond Ridder in. His answer:

"There was plenty of time left in the fourth quarter," Smith said. "If we would have gotten a stop late, we probably would have put him in there to hand off the ball. You could have gotten excited about that, but there's plenty of possessions, no different than L.A.. We had three possessions left, they got us off the field on third down, and we never got the ball back."

A few things I think about this topic: The Falcons aren't going to put Ridder in a bad spot, a position to fail. Bringing him into action will be well thought-out, with time for him to adjust and calibrate, likely against a team more fallible than the red-hot Bengals. I also don't believe, other than true mop-up duty to get him in a game, it would be an isolated relief appearance. If you're going to make a move like that, it's one you stick with.

I would also caution against assuming he's ready for starting responsibility. Only the Falcons know that. Media hasn't seen him take a snap since the summer. And don't think different is automatically better, either. My overall point: a decision to go to a young, backup quarterback over a veteran is one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Call for questions

Submit your questions right here for inclusion in Wednesday's Bair Mail.

We take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals on October 23, 2022.

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