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Bair Mail: On Taylor Heinicke, Arthur Smith and what's missing on offense

We also discuss the role of the play-caller in this Wednesday mailbag.

I mean, wow. The sheer volume of questions stuffed into the mailbag is staggering, which tells me one thing. Falcons fans care deeply about their team and how they play on game day. That's nothing but a good thing to have folks super invested in this team and its performance.

Losing two straight winnable games is tough, for sure, but there's time to get right if they fix things in a hurry. A win on Sunday in Arizona seems borderline essential heading into a bye week, especially with games against each NFC South team coming in three of the four games after it.

In sum, this is as important a stretch as any. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, the Falcons have to play better than in recent weeks. There's plenty of talent on this roster and coaching staff. Execution must be better in all areas, especially with odds high that Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray makes his season debut on Sunday.

It will be interesting to see how the Falcons respond to a tough Week 9 loss to Minnesota, knowing they've got to get back to and then above .500 if they want to make a real run at the division title.


Debbie Spence from Charles Town, West Virginia

Can you please explain to me why Heinicke is starting again on Sunday. Surely it was proven that Ridder is not the main problem.

Bair: As head coach Arthur Smith put it, Taylor Heinicke gives the Falcons the best chance to beat the Arizona Cardinals. After that game, they'll take a long look at which quarterback to start coming out of a Week 11 bye.

Smith announced that Heinicke would remain the starter in a Monday press conference, citing the fact that the Falcons had scored 48 points in six quarters with Heinicke at the helm. While winning matters most and Heinicke still had a pair of turnovers in that span, the offense was moving and could've scored even more.

His comments on the decision to stick with Heinicke against Arizona:

"Going into this week, just kind of looking at everything and where we're at, really the whole situation that we think is best for our team right now is for Taylor," Smith said. "Doesn't mean anything's over for Des, but we need to go get this win out here in Arizona. We feel like that gives us our best chance with everything going on right now."

While some may question sticking with Heinicke in this situation, I'm not in that camp. The Falcons are at a crossroads and, above all else, they have to go win a game. Full stop. They need someone they feel gives them the best chance to do that. If most things are equal, Heinicke has the experience and the track record for making plays late in games. In that situation, you go with Heinicke. If he plays well and the Falcons do better in the red zone, stick with him. If he doesn't provide what the Falcons need, I would say, and this is just me talking here, to go back to Ridder for good. The Falcons are thinking about winning the division. Do whatever's necessary to accomplish that goal.

Ty H. from San Diego

With Arthur Smith making his three first round picks offensive playmakers, why is the Offense struggling?

Bair: The Falcons offense is moving the ball well but not scoring enough touchdowns. The Falcons are 11th in yards per game and 25th in points per game. That's a massive disparity that describes why a unit that is moving the ball is being criticized after consecutive games lost. Part of that is goal-to-go efficiency. Giveaways are another. They have 16 turnovers, two off the league worst.

The Falcons are doing some good things, but critical mistakes both big and small are holding the team back.

"You do see that growth, but it's got to result, like I said, the next step is – you've always got to give them credit – but we've got to take away some of those self-inflicted, and it does start with the turnovers," Smith said. "That'll cost you. That's been the history of this league. So, there are some encouraging things, absolutely.

"…We've got to get everybody to hit all cylinders. But that's why I feel like you're close with what feels like a negative."

Smith insisted that wasn't an excuse. He knows he is accountable. So does everyone else involved on that side of the ball. They understand that criticism comes with underwhelming performances. But it would also be unfair to ignore the good things going on here. That paints a complete picture of where the offense is at this point, with the understanding that the unit must improve.

Jessie Gunn from Columbus, Ga.

Is it time for a change in offense play calling duty?

Bair: That's a hard no from me, Jessie, and here's why. Arthur Smith is well respected throughout the league as an offensive mind. Has been for years. That's part of the reason, among other things, why he was hired as head coach here.

While every play-caller has decisions they'd like to have back -- there were a few that didn't go right against Minnesota -- taking the play sheet away doesn't make much sense. The first part is what we talked about above, about the offense gaining yards but not enough points. The Falcons are doing some good things. They need to do more to start winning consistently, especially in big moments.

And, let's use the quarterback analogy above. Who gives the Falcons the best chance to go win a game? Someone with experience making calls and with solid success doing it in the past. Dave Ragone is the other option as offensive coordinator but doesn't have the experience. I don't think right now is time to make a change here. Smith was asked about it on Sunday, and here's what he had to say about it:

"Every staff I've been on, you do whatever you can to win," Smith said. "I mean, it's just how you set things up. You collaborate. Like I said, yards are up. I know these are natural questions. You get them in the cycle, and then when you don't win, you have to stand there and look at it. It's not an ego thing. It's we'll always do what's best for our team. Yards are up. Moving the ball, great, but obviously we're not scoring more points than the other team. So you look at everything. That's at every phase."

Call for questions

Submit your questions right here for inclusion in the next edition of Bair Mail, which is coming up soon.

Take an overhead look back at the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings during Week 9.

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