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Bair Mail: On Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder, Arthur Smith and NFC South after Tom Brady comeback

Your questions get answers in this Tuesday mailbag

The Falcons have struggled to win consistently all season. They've won two straight only one time, in Weeks 3 & 4. It has been back and forth ever since, though they're on an ill-timed slide that will destroy playoff hopes if it continues.


That's especially true after consecutive losses on fourth-quarter interceptions, where the Falcons had an opportunity to win the game and squandered it.

Where do that go from here?

Head coach Arthur Smith talked about making changes to the depth chart after "intense meetings" with his staff. Will that include a change a quarterback? That's what you all want to talk about in this Tuesday mailbag.

Ray King from Asheville, N.C.

Hi Scott, It's time. It's time to shake things up. I haven't said anything about our quarterback situation, but there is a situation. Marcus Mariota is a good guy, a team player, and knows how to extend plays. But there's a problem. When it comes time to pass the ball the likelihood of him completing it is usually a mystery. I have seen enough of his passing game to lead me to believe that it's not going to improve that much. Again, I like the dude. He has character and humility, but he's not the one who's going to get us to the next level. Yes, I understand it's a team effort but it's time to shake things up and give Desmond Ridder a shot, don't you think? Let's play him against the Saints and get his career started against our archrival. He's got the moxie to do it! Rise Up!

Bair: I picked this question about replacing Mariota because it was rational, objective and well constructed. Thanks for the comment, Ray. I have zero issue addressing controversial topics when they're phrased like this.

I have said countless times in these mailbags that I wouldn't anticipate a quarterback switch until the Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs. I'm not so certain in that opinion anymore, considering recent developments. The Falcons have lost four of five. Their season is on the brink. And, yes, poor quarterback play has a lot to do with their current predicament.

While there's a give-and-take with Mariota – for every bad play made, he makes another good one few quarterbacks could execute – the scales have started to tip in the negative direction. The Falcons also likely have to win out, or darn close to it. They need a spark.

Could Desmond Ridder provide that? We have no idea. He's a rookie with zero NFL snaps in the regular season. He could struggle mightily. If there's one certainty, he'll make some rookie mistakes if given the opportunity. We don't know if he'll have one. That hasn't been determined yet. We also don't know how he's doing in practice or meetings. We haven't seen him work in quite some time. The coaches know, however. That's a major factor in whether they make a change or not. Is not simply a matter if Mariota isn't doing enough. Is he better than the alternative? Or is it time to get Ridder a shot? Can he handle the pressure of needing to win, win, win? This is a huge decision the Falcons staff has to weigh. We'll have to see what they do after the bye.

Barry Wynn from Rex, Ga.

Do we still think that Arthur Smith is a genius? It does not look like it to me. His choices at quarterback are questionable and the team cannot score.

Bair: I don't think Arthur Smith would call himself a genius. Ha. He's also objective enough to consider all arguments about why he's highly regarded and why his offense has struggled some in recent weeks. He's also a team guy, someone who doesn't even like taking credit for successes, saying the Falcons deserve praise over him as an individual.

But, in terms of team strengths, Smith's play calling and design rank high among them. His offense if really good. His run scheme is elite. Unlike some coordinators who think their scheme is more important that personnel, Smith caters what he does to his roster's strengths. Think about what he called for Matt Ryan versus what he calls for Marcus Mariota. He has found ways to be impactful with both quarterbacks, with all of their pros and cons.

His players also buy into to what he sells, another key component of his job as a head coach. Is he perfect as a game manager or play caller? No. No one is. But he's an asset to this team in both areas. When this roster gets stocked, Smith will help this team thrive. You can take that to the bank.

Jeremy Smith from Newnan, Ga.

Hey Bair, Tough loss on Sunday and the Saints losing last night. Is there even a chance the Falcons can make the playoffs?

Bair: The little piece of Tom Brady magic didn't help the Falcons much, but it wasn't a dagger. Atlanta is 1.5 games back of Tampa Bay and, if the Bucs lose to San Francisco in Week 14, the Falcons will emerge from the bye week just a game back. That game can get earned back in Week 18, when the Bucs come to Atlanta. A win there would pull them even, even if both teams win out from Weeks 15-17. The Falcons aren't out of it but, they have to play a whole lot better to even have a chance. They've lost four of five. Now they probably have to win out. The only was that happens is with vastly improved play.

Call for questions

We're going to publish another mailbag on Wednesday, before the Falcons digital team goes dark for the bye weekend. Submit you questions right here for inclusion in Wednesday's edition of Bair Mail.


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