LAVONIA, Ga. -- I went to Cracker Barrel for the first time on Monday afternoon. Check another box on immersing myself in Southern staples.
Tori McElhaney, Kris Rhim and I stopped at one in Lavonia, on our drive back from Charlotte. It was a a scene, man. I couldn't believe the size of the gift shop in the lobby, the rockers posted outside or the fact we were the youngest patrons by a mile. It was both kitschy and awesome.
Tori recommended the chicken 'n dumplings. I had that, biscuits, mac and cheese and some hash brown casserole. In a word, legit.
Before you write in and ask if I've been living under a rock and that Cracker Barrel is a national chain, they don't have them anywhere I've lived in California. This was all new.
So I've done the sweet tea thing. I'm a Chik-Fil-A regular. I dig pimento cheese and I'm among the billions calling peaches the best fruit around. Now Cracker Barrel's cross off the list. I even have a Georgia driver's license and Peach State plates. A meal at Waffle House and I'm officially a Georgian.
It was a good stop on the way back from weekend wear the Falcons took a real positive step. We address that progress and look a bit farther down the road in Monday's Bair Mail, which is a bit belated after a long drive home with the Tori and Kris.
Charlie C. from Boulder, Colo.
Scott, how about our running game coming on in the last three games? I believe that Patterson, Davis, & Ollison ran the ball for 128 yards today in Charlotte, so doesn't that make it over 100 yards in rushing in three consecutive games in a row? Isn't it crazy to see Patterson and Davis play with a chip on their shoulders, proving that they can consistently rush over 100 yards a game? Can they do it again Sunday in san Francisco?
Bair: You're right, Charlie, that the Falcons run game is trending up. Going over 100 yards once is nice but a singular event. Doing it three times, twice against top run defenses, constitutes a marked improvement.
A large part of that is the offensive line work, allowing backs to get past the line and into the second level before making first contact. That's why you've seen Mike Davis be better recently. He can be a sledgehammer with a full head of steam, a tough runner to bring down who initiates contact on his terms.
Cordarelle Patterson has been running well, and Qadree Ollison's back in the mix after spending most of the year on the practice squad. Running well will help against the 49ers, who have an excellent pass rush the Falcons must neutralize whenever possible. The 49ers have allowed an average of 4.3 yards per carry, suggesting the Falcons could continue running well out west.
Whether the Falcons make the postseason or not, the gains made in the running game and on defense will leave the franchise in a better space. That'll be the case even with significant turnover expected this season.
Matthew Grant from Seattle
Hi Scott, First off, I want to say how much more I've enjoyed this mailbag and the level of engagement with fan questions this year over previous years, despite our current team record. Anyways... my question is this: Do you think the Falcons will aim to trade down for more picks this draft, given our questionable cap space and the sheer amount of players we need to fill our roster? (Not to mention, a genuine need at almost every position) Thanks for keeping fans involved and interested instead of just bummed out by the product on the field!
Bair: Thanks for the kind words, Matthew. Appreciate the question. And, you're right. The Falcons need a ton, especially with roster flux remaining high. Trading down could give them some options to get extra picks – those are solid gold for a team trying to expand its young foundation – but you need a partner. And Terry Fontenot will surely have his limits for how far down he's willing to go based on the players available. It'll be an interesting first round for the Falcons, because they need both volume and top talent. You don't want to lose out on a prized prospect by going too far down. They'll play out all those scenarios heading into the NFL draft, with a plan to execute no matter what offers come their way.
Will Smith from Summerville, Ga.
Hi, Scott, as always, thanks for the work y'all do. I'd like to address the o line, specifically Mayfield and McGary, the two weakest links, in my opinion. Although both have been better lately, they've been responsible for most of Matt's aches and pains this season. This is way out of the box, but what do you think about having them switch positions. McGary is big and nasty, but too slow to beat a fast edge rusher to the corner. At guard, he wouldn't have that problem. And Mayfield was a tackle in college, right? Maybe a fresh start would help him. Your thoughts?
Bair: Interesting thought, Will, but I doubt they would go down that road at this point. I'd bet Kaleb McGary would need some significant time to accommodate a position switch. Jalen Mayfield can play several spots but, in my opinion, he's a better guard than tackle at this stage.
Continuity is also king along the offensive line, and we're seeing far better, more precise run blocking. The Falcons would want to keep that good thing going.
Check out the best black and white images from the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers game during Week 14 of 2021.
Joe Van Horn from Acworth, Ga.
As we have played better on the road, and by my count we are 4-16 in our last 20 games at the Benz, what can the Falcons do to turn home field into an advantage instead of a disadvantage? The fans are ready, trust me, to cheer them on but walking out losers every game this year and 16 out of the last 20 is tough.
Bair: Yeah, Joe, the Falcons' record at Mercedes-Benz is pretty rough. Going winless there thus far has been a disappointment for Arthur Smith, countered only by the team's success on the road. There's nothing to point to directly, leaving it more as a coincidence than anything. The Falcons travel well, with a 6-2 record away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They'll have a chance to get right with home games against the Lions and Saints, both beatable teams.
The home crowd will need to be at its best in those contests, with both probably having major playoff implications. I understand your frustrations – you want to celebrate wins with the team – and it must be tough to walk out of the venue without one.
Call for questions
We have another big Bair Mail coming on Wednesday, so let's fill up the mailbag by submitting questions right here.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Terrin Waack. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.