Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder combined for 82 yards on nine carries Friday night against the Detroit Lions.
None of them were designed runs. Seriously. Not a single one.
'We had plays that – we'll continue to evolve there, but it's preseason, we're not going to show our hand in a lot of other stuff," head coach Arthur Smith said in his postgame press conference. "But, when you have athletic quarterbacks and you're able to move the pocket, they're going to be able to extend plays."
These quarterbacks have serious speed and aren't afraid to use it, adding an dynamic element the Falcons haven't had in recent seasons.
No offense to #MattyWheels, but Mariota and Ridder have another gear. We saw that in a 27-23 preseason victory at Ford Field, where quarterback speed sustained drives and turned bad plays into productive ones. We also saw Mariota and Ridder throw strikes after moving the pocket, most notably on a 24-yard strike from Mariota to Drake London and Ridder's go-ahead touchdown strike to Jared Bernhardt.
Such mobility can make up for deficiencies, or even individual mistakes, along the offensive front. It can make a defense hesitate for a second or simply account for another offensive dimension, which can create opportunities that weren't previously there.
Parker Hesse knows that all too well. The Falcons tight end, who caught a touchdown pass from Ridder and paved the way for Mariota's 6-yardouchdown sprint, was a defensive end in college. The University of Iowa product had to deal with containing mobile quarterbacks and knows it's no fun.
"Speaking as someone who was a defensive player in college, it's extremely challenging to deal with quarterbacks who can really run," Hesse said. "When you play man coverage, most guys have their back turned and the quarterback can take off and run. The guys up front have to be more disciplined in their lanes. They can't sell out during one-on-one pass rushes. It definitely helps having quarterbacks who can move."
Notice Hesse's use of the plural. The Falcons have two quarterbacks who can run when required.
Ridder isn't slow by any stretch, but Mariota is quiiiiiick. And unafraid to take a hit to gain extra yards. We saw that a few times during the veteran's only Friday night drive, which took 9 minutes, 27 seconds and most of the first quarter.
His speed was well known to someone like me, who didn't watch his every NFL move, but, watching him play live, Mariota can blow by most anyone at maximum warp. The guy's play speed is something esle. He turned on the afterburners a few times on Friday, maybe much to the Falcons' chagrin, never slid.
"That's part of how I play," Mariota said. "I was just trying to make the most of the drive and the plays we had. I thought it went well."
Smith would prefer that to playing tentative. He seems to value decisiveness and conviction, for his players to make a choice (preferably the right one) and go with it.
That has been Mariota in this camp, with Ridder showing flashes of that more in this game. The willingness to go for it and make unorthodox plays was a development welcome to the Falcons offense.
"It was awesome," right tackle Kaleb McGary said. "I had fun being out there with them and watching them do their thing."
Mariota is the presumptive full-time starting quarterback at this stage but, no matter who's under center, establishing that position as a running threat makes this Falcons offense more explosive, and dangerous.
"Hopefully y'all got a little taste," running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. "Hopefully y'all will get more in the future. These quarterbacks, the way they can tuck the ball and run it, the sky's the limit."