Skip to main content

Bair Mail: On Marcus Mariota, Kyle Pitts and Falcons red-zone performance 

We tackle issues from the Rams game and what must happen moving forward in this Monday mailbag

SEATTLE – Greetings, everyone, from the West Coast. Woke up Sunday in Los Angeles, went to sleep in Seattle. That's where the Falcons will stay this week, between the Rams and Seahawks games.


It's a smart move on the Falcons part, to stay out here over making separate cross-country flights. It's a good team-building experience early in the season, and the Falcons are now hoping to come out of this two-game swing a 1-1 following a tough loss to the Rams.

What went wrong? What needs to get fixed? Which players need to get better or more involved? We tackle all those issues in this Monday Bair Mail episode:

Zackery Goodnight from Dallas, Tex.

I feel like the last two weeks, every aspect of game besides PASSING has kept us in these games. But i feel like when it comes time to pass, Mariota is so inconsistent and seems to have no poise unless he's out of the pocket. So, I can't imagine the coaching staff, the front office, and even you guys writing for the team don't see these mistakes Mariota is making?

I know the entire team has made mistakes, but we got to be serious here, when is it time to give Ridder a shot? I feel like we are just hoping Mariota knocks the rust off and figures it out. But hoping is not showing up in crucial moments on Sundays. When is the coaching staff seriously going to consider Ridder and quit holding on to experience?

Bair: Thanks for the question, Zackery. It's a tough one, but it's fair. I kept an eye on the sideline when the score severely lopsided, and never saw any indication Desmond Ridder was even entering warm-up mode.

I really like Marcus as an athlete and a human being, but I can see some issues in his performance that would set off alarm bells in fans when the team isn't winning. Regarding a change at quarterback, I'll tell you that, personally, I'm not there yet. Not even close, actually.

I think Mariota will continue to grow and improve and help this team win ball games. I also think not every error on his tab is his fault. There are offensive growing pains all over the place. Mariota deserves more patience and time to show what he can do. Two games aren't enough, and there's a lot to like when Mariota's going strong. There are also issues he has to fix posthaste.

There's also one factor in this discussion that none of us know for sure – is Ridder ready to enter a game? We don't see him in meetings. We don't see him take many practice reps any more, with most sessions being closed to the media. I know he improved a ton over the summer. That doesn't make him ready for an NFL game.

My point in all that: There's a ton that goes into a QB switch, and the fallout of such a move is real. After two games, I'm just not there. Patience is required as this offense comes together with a new quarterback and his relatively unique skill set.

Here's what Arthur Smith said about Mariota's performance, which I think is a fair and accurate assessment:

"Well, take it in context. I mean some of the stuff, wasn't necessarily his fault. He made enough plays and gave us a chance, right? He have two touchdown passes today? (Regarding his interceptions), I mean the way the ball bounced off CP, and then the one at the end…it's (CB) Jalen (Ramsey) over the top, you got a chance on that. There are things we'll look at and clean up, but he's operating pretty well for us right now."

Mike Decker from Roanoke, Va.

Hey Scott (& Tori), big Atlanta sports fan here in VA. I love the material you guys have put out last year and so far this year. My question is where is Pitts in these first couple of games? Is the defense paying that much attention to him that we can't find ways to get him the ball, especially in the red zone? Love what I have been seeing so far and will be down the first weekend of October to watch a Braves game and then the Falcons play the Browns.

P.S. Tell Tori she is mine and my daughters favorite reporter covering our Atlanta sports. Love her wit and how she goes about putting the articles together and we even started following her on Twitter. Keep up the good work.

Bair: Thanks for the kind words, Mike! And I sent Tori a screen shot of your submission right before I started this response, and you totally made her day. Tell your daughters hello for us and thanks to the fam for reading!

Now on to your question about Kyle, one that several had after that loss in L.A. Tori will dive into this topic in greater detail in her "Inside Tori's Notebook", but I'll also touch on it here because so many are curious about it.

So Kyle Pitts has 38 receiving yards on 10 targets. Let's credit him with a 36-yard pass interference call and bring his total to 74 yards. That's still far lower than the expectation for an elite tight end talent. And while he does a bunch in the offense and has improved as a blocker, he's the team's No. 1 pass catcher. We can sit here and talk about defenses shading toward him and Kyle being schemed against, and that creating opportunities for others – Arthur Smith used KhaDarel Hodge's catch-and-run Sunday as an example of that – is part of the Pitts effect.

All those points are valid, but here's another. He's an elite talent. Elite talents don't get shut down for long. Trust me, Kyle is going to get his. He's going to create opportunities for himself and will have opportunities created for him. It's never as simple as get him the dang ball. It's never as complicated as explaining away weeks of low production. He's their best player regardless of position and the Falcons are better when he's active, but there's one thing you can't do: force it.

Ryan Murray from Wichita Falls, Kan.

Always enjoy the column guys. I came into this season with zero expectations. I love the fight this team has shown, and they seem to be way more physical. I however am disappointed in Red Zone efficiency just like I am sure everyone is. What are the conversations in the building on how to fix this issue?

Bair: The Falcons haven't been good enough inside the 20-yard line, Ryan, and it's hurting the overall product. There's zero argument about that. Coming away from two first-half red-zone trips on Sunday with just three points complete changed the game, and the Falcons have to look in the mirror for how to fix it. Red-zone penalties are unacceptable. The whole team will tell you that. Also, the Falcons have a lot of big bodies and options down there and aren't finding ways in.

Looking at stats from TruMedia, the Falcons third-down issues have been compounded in the red zone. They're averaging just 1.17 yards per third-down play and are converting into a first down or a score 16.7 percent of the time. That's not efficient enough in these tight games where every point matters. I will also say, though, that we're dealing with a small sample size. I believe the average will move up the longer they play.

Coaches will continue being creative inside the 20, both in the run and pass game. I don't take great issue with the calls down there. Players must execute better. There have been too many operational mistakes. It's a bit of everything. They work a ton on red zone offense already but getting that issue right as they move through the next few weeks.

Sloane Willing from Melbourne, Australia

G'day Bair. I've been enjoying your mail segment all year. This Saturday is our Australian Football League Grand Final. Geelong Cats Vs Sydney Swans. Going to be a great match. Who is your tip for the game?

Bair: Well, Sloane, I'm going to use my extensive knowledge of Aussie football – I mean, I saw a game once. Ha. – and go with the Cats. Winners of 15 straight? They're on a roll, man. Taking it all the way this year! I think. At least that's what the one preview article I read seemed to suggest. Ha!

Call for questions

Keep the good questions coming! Appreciate everyone who submitted something after Sunday's game. Almost all of it included rational discourse, even when being critical. Now let's fill the mailbag back up, right here, for Wednesday's Bair Mail.


Sundays In Atlanta, GA Reserved For Dirty Birds

Doesn't get better than a Falcons Sunday in the city! Shop the Kickoff Collection today online or in-store at Atlantic Station.

Related Content