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Bair Mail: On Marcus Mariota, Cordarrelle Patterson's role, Olamide Zaccheaus and extending Kaleb McGary

We also talk about playoff prospects in this Monday mailbag

Man. The Falcons sure looked good in Sunday's 28-14 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. They looked good on tape as well, in a dominant showing in all phases of the game.

It was, shall we say, complete.


It also posed tons of questions, especially about a polarizing quarterback who had a great day at the office. Marcus Mariota was excellent in Week 6, completing 13 of 14 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He also 50 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Can he rinse and repeat? We discuss that topic, Cordarrelle Patterson's role when he comes back from IR, whether the Falcons should extend Kaleb McGary, Olamide Zaccheaus' strong start and we talk a little playoffs in this Monday mailbag.

Chrystian Price from Canton, Ga.

Hey bair, we can say now Mariota has had one good game with 0 mistakes. Can he continue to keep up the production from the 49er's game or will he fall back to his play before this game. I hope he can continue the play as he played well for the first time since the season began. I just hope he can continue that gameplay and not fall back to his mistake ridden play that we have seen before that. Any thoughts on how he continue to build from his play from the 49ers game or will he fall back into his gameplay from before.

Bair: Chrystian is one of several to ask this question, and I picked this one because of its phrasing, which has a twinge of cynicism common in the submissions. I like the concept of progress and building off recent results.

Look, Mariota was as efficient and impactful as it gets in Sunday's victory over San Francisco. And, to the point made above, Mariota had made too many critical mistakes in previous games. Four interceptions and seven fumbles (three lost) in five games is just too many. There's no discounting that.

But I think we saw how good this Falcons team can be when it avoids big errors and stays out of its own way. I think there's a case to be made here that Mariota's making progress and that we'll see his play improve over a long term. We forget that he barely played in two-and-a-half years between getting benched in Tennessee and taking over as Falcons quarterback. He threw 30 passes in the interim, most of them in one game.

Mariota's getting used to this again, and is making better decisions as his confidence grows. You can see it in his willingness to make tight window throws, when to tuck it and when to keep it. He's sliding more, being safer and smarter with the ball. He's not being asked to throw a ton, but we've seen efficiency improve. That's what a good running team needs. I have confidence in Mariota and did even while being critical of him making too many mistakes. He's the QB1 right now and, if he can put more games like Sunday together, the Falcons are going to win more than they lose.

There will probably be a time where the Falcons fall behind or get off track and he'll have to throw 30-plus times. Can they win that way, too? I think they can, but Mariota will have to go out and prove it.

Michael Lewis from Tulsa, Okla.

Hi Bair, as much as I hate to have to ask this question because, I love Patterson, but I figure it at least fits into the mold of "good problem to have" so I ask it anyway. With the ground game still producing at a fairly high level with Allgeier and co. If that is still the case when Patterson is ready to return from the IR do you see his role going back to a main "Swiss army knife" weapon type role or do we see Arthur Smith want to continue to ride what is working and looking to make the backfield more of a platoon/timeshare between the three of them?

Bair: I don't think Arthur Smith wanted to run Cordarrelle Patterson as much as he did early in the season, but the Falcons were banged up at the position and Patterson was running so well it was hard not to feature him in the offense.

There's definitely room for Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley to keep getting carries, even with Patterson on the field in the slot or out wide. All that said, let's be honest here: Patterson is the more dynamic player and it's not that close. He'll get his carries and catches the second he's ready and available. Having the others can spell him and take some rough inside carries off of his plate.

One interesting dynamic could occur once Damien Williams is designated to return off IR. Do you cut Huntley? I'd bet he gets claimed off waivers. And it'd be tough to keep six running backs on the 53-man roster. They're going to have a tough decision ahead when and if Williams is ready to go.

Aarya Avant from Duncan, Ariz.

Quick question for you Bai. As I watched the game, I noticed more and more of Olamide Zaccheaus, getting great catches and making tough plays like reaching out or a first down on 3rd. Do you think that with Pitts back and sharing defensive focus with London that we might see OZ get more targets?

Bair: It's crystal clear, Aarya, that Marcus Mariota and Olamide Zaccheaus have a great rapport. His target count isn't super high, but he makes big plays when it matters most. That that third-down play on the first drive that went for big yards. Zaccheaus is consistently getting open and being where he's supposed to be, a point that I brought up to him during a conversation last week.

He told me his pre-snap reads and improved understanding of defensive coverages has helped him this season. He's a smart player and has now upped his game, leading to good numbers. So far, he has 16 catches for 271 yards (16.9 ypc) and two TDs on just 18 targets. Only two passes to him have hit the ground. That's extraordinary, and OZ's production and reliability has become a real asset for this offense.

Brian Henderson from Sparks, Nev.

Hey Bair, I mean, what a freaking game. We all know the Niners were depleted on the defensive side but I still think there is so much to be proud of. None more than Kaleb McGary, The Washington grown freak of nature is showing why he is deserving to be our RT for years to come. We have touched a lot on Lindstrom and Dalman and how detrimental they have been to turning around this line but McGary's ascension has been just as important. Do you think he has done enough for us to hand out a contract to keep him around? I am thinking we can find a contract that works for both the player and team and keeps our right side intact. Thanks for all you guys do!

Bair: I agree with you, Brian, that Kaleb McGary is having his best season to date, and it's coming in a contract year, after the Falcons declined his fifth-year option. He's run blocking extremely well and admirably protecting the passer. He also has solid chemistry with right guard Chris Lindstrom, and running to the right has become a lucrative proposition.

Should the Falcons extend McGary. Will the former first-round pick want to test the open market? All those things factor into what the Falcons might do at that spot. If I were Terry Fontenot, I would at least explore the prospect of a longer term deal, to see how close the sides are on compensation. That could provide a gauge of what the Falcons might do there, but O-line continuity is king and keeping McGary and Lindstrom – who's due a hefty extension in his own right, probably this offseason – would be a good thing.

Neil Willsher from Northamption, England, U.K.

Six games played and we have been in every one of them. There is a difference between being competitive in games and converting them into wins, but surely a playoff push is now a serious prospect?

Bair: At this point, why not? They're tied atop a shaky division, playing in a league were parity (mostly) reigns. And there's that seventh playoff spot, now, too. If we can't write the Falcons off heading into any game, we can't immediately dismiss their prospects on spec.

And, this question also allows me to include Arthur Smith's quote about thinking playoffs in Monday's press conference.

"I'm not going to give you the Jim Mora Sr. quote," Smith said with a smile. "But we're staying focused on Cincinnati."

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