It's almost game day. This is the last Bair Mail of the week, where we tie up loose ends from the week and truly become experts on all things Falcons before they line up Sunday trying to beat the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Or so I hope. But probably not. Ha.
This is a chance for you all to set the agenda, and on this fine Friday you wanted to discuss the state of the passing game, Arthur Smith's big-picture plan, Damien Williams and other IR return candidates and a closer look at the unusual state of the NFC South through four full weeks. Let's get right to all that, right now:
Zackery Goodknight from Dallas, Tex.
I didn't realize this because I was too focused on the run game, how can we expect Pitts to get his numbers and be a part of the offense when our QB only completed 7 passes!!! 7!!! There are receivers with 7+ catches in a single game easily. That to me shows that ATL is a QB away from actually being a great offense. 7!!!
Bair: Yeah. The passing game wasn't good against the Browns. Which is kinda weird, considering how well the first drive went. Marcus Mariota has to find better sync with his targets and, obviously, avoid the critical mistakes that have hindered him this season. Too many fumbles, too many picks. It's that simple.
There's hope, though, in the fact that this is a week-to-week league. We saw that between the Seattle and Cleveland wins, where Mariota was really good in one game and not nearly as good in the other. The Falcons have the line and the big targets and athleticism at quarterback. They are scoring, but they must pass better to keep Tampa Bay's stout defense from keying almost exclusively on the run.
Mariota has a solid connection with Olamide Zaccheaus and Drake London, both of whom need heavy contributions on Sunday to keep the offense moving. London will be tested, but he certainly has the skill, size and ability to make plays against almost anyone. They'll need him to get open and make some plays in this one, especially if tight end Kyle Pitts is slowed or unavailable after dealing with a hamstring all week.
Balance will be key for the Falcons this week and in most others. They can't expect to win much any other way. The passing game has made some good plays. They need to make more, and more consistently for this offense to reach a higher gear.
Ryan Murray from Wichita Falls, Tex.
Hey Scott, I know Arthur Smith was under fire early in the season after the whole "writing our obituary" press conference. However, he is really changing the identity of this team to a physical, hard-nosed bunch. I hope Arthur Blank lets him stick around for the entire "retooling" process. Where do you see AS needing to improve to ensure that happens?
Bair: Arthur Smith is a brilliant offensive mind. We're seeing that on display in early portions of this season, with innovative offensive strategies that have the Falcons going well, especially on the ground, in this early season.
He's an effective head coach as well, setting a proper tone in practice and a culture of toughness and accountability.
You think that's a lot of compliments, when you asked what he needs to improve? That's because I think it's about developing players within this philosophy. The Falcons need talent upgrades in several positions. I just don't think coaching is a problem. Is he intense? Sure. Can he be aggressive and loud? Sure. But he's authentic. That, and a sky-high football IQ, is a good place to start when building a program able to find sustained success.
Ronnie Watts from Jackson, Ga.
When will Jalen Mayfield and Damien Williams return from injured reserve? Also Deion Jones?
Bair: I addressed this one a bit on Wednesday but, just because a player is eligible to return doesn't mean that he will. That could be the case for Jalen Mayfield and Deion Jones. It's unknown where those two are in their rehab, but it's also a fact that the Falcons are in good shape at guard and inside linebacker, were Mayfield and Jones play. There's no timetable for those guys to return to action, or if they return at all in 2022.
Regarding Damien Williams, he's eligible to be designated to return starting next week. They could get the veteran running back after one more game without him. That might be important with Cordarrelle Patterson on IR and Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley as primary backs in Week 5. Williams was going to be a major player in the offense before he got hurt in the season opener. He could be again when he regains full health.
Jeffery J from Stockbridge, Ga.
Scott, could you share your thoughts on the landscape of the NFC South moving forward. It looks like Carolina could be searching for a new HC next offseason, TB12 could be playing his last season in Tampa Bay and the Saints- who have their lone victory against us, have been selling out to win a championship for years and are reeling. Given that the Falcons have a promising coaching staff in place and our OC can't be hired away, wouldn't you agree the Falcons are in prime position to run this division for years to come? If we can figure out the long term QB situation of course.
Bair: I don't necessarily agree with all of your assumptions, especially with the Saints and Bucs. Those teams have lots of talent, and may each be a good young quarterback away from being tough to beat.
I do agree that this division could be really competitive and that the Falcons could be right in the mix if they continue to develop talented scheme fits, avoid serious injuries and find a long-term quarterback of the future.
It's a plus that the Falcons enter Sunday's game with the chance to take first place in the division, but there's a long way to go to consistently contend for division titles. It won't be easy, but the whole division won't have a truly established franchise quarterback after/if Tom Brady retires.
Take a look as the team puts in the work in Flowery Branch to prepare for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.