SEATTLE – We're getting really close to game day, and the Falcons are hungry for their first win of the season after two swings and narrow misses. They'll take another shot at it on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, wrapping a two-game road trip after spending the week training at the University of Washington.
There are plenty of questions about how they'll fare, with most of them focused on the offense. We deal with some positives, such as Drake London's hot start, and some concerns, like Kyle Pitts relative lack of production and Marcus Mariota needing to avoid critical mistakes. We also talk expectations, and how they've changed, in this Friday edition of Bair Mail:
Payton M from Smyrna, Ga.
Drake London's off to a strong start, which is exciting to see. Did you expect him to make such an impact this early in the year?
Bair: I didn't come into the season expecting one thing over another to start the year, though Drake London would've been forgiven for a slow start considering how much time he missed dealing with a knee issue.
He performed well right out of the gate, showing a rare receiving combination of being able to act as a big-bodied receiver, a deep threat and a catch-and-run guy wrapped in one. He has 13 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown through two games, with his yardage almost evenly split between two games.
Those are all positives for a player who transitioned well to the NFL game.
"Where he is with his production, I think he's done a good job of, not just the mental but the physical part of what we ask to go out there and try to execute the game plan," offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. "Just like everybody who is out there with the skill guys, there is a certain criterion in which we ask guys, especially mentally, to go out there and perform. You have to be able to be on top of that and Drake is just another example of a guy that goes out and acts like a professional. There are things that we ask. He tries to go out and execute at a high level and the ball finds him at times. And he makes plays when his number is called."
Another encouraging sign about London: he plays how he practices.
"It's professional football, so there is definitely a level when you come in to understand there is a responsibility in that," Ragone said. "Drake, just like our other guys take that responsibility serious. You hope for not just him but for other players, their production to continue to occur because that makes us a better offense."
Amanda V from Buford, Ga.
I know you all have addressed Kyle Pitts a few times this week after he hasn't had a ton of catches over the first two games. Do you think he could break out against Seattle?
Bair: I think Pitts could break out at any time against any opponent. He's that good. Seattle has struggled in coverage, so it's certainly possible he takes over a game here in the Pacific Northwest. If this turns out to be a breakout game for Pitts, it won't be because the Falcons force it to him. They've made it clear all week they aren't going to do that.
"Kyle is doing everything that we ask," Ragone said. "Within the scheme and the fit of the games, we are trying to get him involved. That's important to all of us but there are other players that have shown up and made plays. It will fit within the flow of the system. In my experience, when you start forcing the ball at the quarterback spot to somebody you are asking for bad things, potentially, to happen. That's not how we speak with the quarterback. Defenses dictate, at times, where the ball goes but it's not a forced situation."
Chris Atlas from Marietta, Ga.
What's up Bair and Co? I know you've been high on Mariota since he signed, but his play so far has been less than stellar. Given the familiarity with coach Smith and the playbook shouldn't he look better than he's played? Sure, it's a small sample size but he's making rookie mistakes. His pocket awareness and read progressions are lacking for an 8 year vet. Also what's the likelihood Ridder starts or sees the field next week if Mariota plays less than subpar versus the Seahawks?
Bair: It's clear that Marcus Mariota has some things to clean up on his end and has made some costly mistakes during the first two games. Head coach Arthur Smith has been quick to point out that the entire offense has things to clean up, that it's not as simple as pointing fingers at the quarterback.
While I agree with that, you still need better (and quickly) from Mariota both in working the ball to top playmakers and, in what's most important here, avoiding critical mistakes. While no result should be blamed on one play, the Falcons probably beat the Saints if he doesn't fumble on the 5-yard line. They stand a much better chance against the Rams if that ball isn't forced to Bryan Edwards with Jalen Ramsey looming over the top, especially with Drake London one-on-one deep on the other side and Olamide Zaccheaus seemingly open before the sticks.
Mariota has been good but, for a Falcons team that can't afford big mistakes, he needs to be just a little better.
Kevin Yoshizu from Honolulu, Haw.
Why are so many fans disappointed at their Falcons team so early in the season? This is basically a rebuilding year for the Falcons even if Arthur Smith doesn't want to admit it. This team had 3 good quarters the 1st game and 1awesome quarter the 2nd game. This team is young and inexperienced and hasn't even had the time to gel yet! Also this is Arthur Smiths 2nd year only. Do fans expect the Falcons to be a playoff team in their 2nd year? This year's team may not have as talented roster as every team they will play but they show great tenacity! Win or lose this team has shown great improvement over last year and that all we can ask for them. Rome wasn't built in one day. We will get there. Just be patient.
Bair: I don't think Falcons fans harbor false assumptions about the Falcons being a Super Bowl contender. I do think, Kevin, that they saw the team fall short in two winnable games and wish the results could've been different. The Falcons are a team in transition, with many new faces, and is still learning how to play well together over four quarters. There have been some encouraging signs of improvement over the first two weeks, especially regarding the offensive line and the pass rush.
This is a team that can win some games we maybe didn't expect them to win on paper, and that's encouraging. They will need to break through, as Arthur Smith put it, and need to start winning some of these games.