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Bair Mail: On Mike Davis and Cordarelle Patterson, offensive line issues and young safeties

We discuss carry counts, Jaylinn Hawkins, Richie Grant and more in Friday's mailbag

Bair Mail.9.24

The Falcons are in desperate need of a win. That's the obvious case after two straight losses, heading into a three-game stretch against beatable teams. But, when we say "beatable," we don't mean automatic win.

The Falcons can't write a W in pen next to any game on the schedule. They must earn each one with a level of consistent execution we haven't seen in the first two weeks. Arthur Smith's crew clearly made strides between the first two contests, but the bar was incredibly low after the season opener.


They need to do better over a longer stretch to realize potential and start winning games. How do they do that? That's what we'll discuss during Friday's Bair Mail.

Nathan Pruitt from Gainesville, Ga.

Who do you think will be the featured back [as the season moves along]? Mike Davis is the starter but Patterson looked great against the Bucs!

Bair: Thanks for the question, Nathan. Let's start with this: someone gets the "start" by playing the first snap. That often depends on the formation, far more than merit. Same goes with the defensive side.

Like your "feature back" term, which fits the position better. Mike Davis was expected to take the lion's share of carries this season, though Cordarrelle Patterson has made a bigger impact that deserves steady touches. Davis' workload will probably be higher than Patterson over the course of the year, but it might be closer to a 60-40 split.

Davis is averaging 3.6 yards per carry at this point, but his efficiency needs to go up. Patterson's at 4.6, a far better clip that could earn more carries if sustained. The run game overall must be more efficient throughout the course of a contest, with Arthur Smith often going with a hotter hand.

Will Smith from Summerville, Ga.

I'm concerned (again this year) about the offensive line. Our run game hasn't improved a bit with Davis as RB1 and Matt is either sacked or has passes knocked down too many times to sustain many drives. Do we just have to wait for two or three more drafts to fix this or do you think the talent is there, waiting for Arthur and his staff to pull it out? As always, thanks for your work.

Bair: There are two concerns surrounding the offensive line. The first, as you pointed out, Will, is the on-field performance. That simply hasn't been good enough to this point. While we saw some improvement from the center and left guard against Tampa, the interior's still unstable. The Falcons also have a problem at right tackle, where Kaleb McGary has been subpar.

The other offensive line issue: The Falcons have these problems after investing a ton trying to solve them. They used two first-round picks on offensive linemen back in 2019. They used third-round picks on Matt Hennessy and Jalen Mayfield. That's a lot of capital for lackluster performance, though the blame falls on previous decision makers. They struck gold with Chris Lindstrom, but that's about it. Now it's up to Smith's staff to develop the players on hand and improve the situation in the short and long term.

Jacob Schonberger from New Haven, Conn.

Hey Bair! I was wondering why Arthur Smith isn't starting our two young safeties. I understand the idea of taking time to develop, but our secondary can't get much worse than it is right now. Why not take a chance on Grant and Hawkins and let them learn from experience, even if there are some growing pains. Our current starting safeties aren't exactly ideal starters either.

Bair: The Falcons signed Erik Harris and Duron Harmon so they wouldn't have to rush younger players into action. They are, however, giving guys who deserve time a shot.

That happened with Jaylinn Hawkins against Tampa Bay. He earned a few series with practice performance. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has a good philosophy on getting younger reserves some work.

"If you're a guy who is busting your butt every week and you're doing well, and coaches see you doing well, you can get a little playing time. At the same time, if we didn't totally trust [Hawkins] to go in there and do a good job, we wouldn't put him in. We didn't do that just to play him. He earned the right to get in there because he has done things right."

Pees was also asked what Richie Grant must do to get involved defensively.

"Just learn the defense better," Pees said. "He's a rookie and he has to learn a lot of stuff. He has to get to that point where he knows it, and we know he knows it."


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