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Bair Mail: On Bijan Robinson, Desmond Ridder and long-term QB plans, how to win NFC South and more

We also discuss Dave Ragone's role in the Falcons offense in this Friday mailbag. 

We're just a few days away from an important game in this 2023 season, which comes right before the bye. Feels like the Falcons have to get Sunday's game at Arizona, especially with the Saints a game up in the division and a crucial NFC South stretch coming up.

There have been questions aplenty about this Falcons team this week after losing two winnable games against two quarterbacks making first starts for their clubs. How will they respond after losing to the Titans and Vikings?

Jeff Okudah had this to say about that: "With this team, I have no doubt in my mind that we're going to have a proper response in Arizona next week."

We'll find out about that on Sunday. Just before that, let's discuss important topics to the Falcons fan base in this Friday Bair Mail:


Michelle Warren from Chicago

Why are they not utilizing Bijan? Hyped as this is a rookie RB to watch. Clearly has the talent but not getting the chance. What am I missing?

Bair: That's a fair question, Michelle, one with a complex answer. It's partly built upon his early performances, meaning he's schemed more now than before. It's partly because the Falcons have plenty of quality options in the backfield and in the pattern, including two backs in Tyler Allgeier and Cordarelle Patterson who are bigger and strong and agile nonetheless. And, this is just me talking here, but it's partly because Robinson has put the ball on the ground twice in eight full games played. Can't have that issue show up near the goal line.

By contrast, Allgeier has never fumbled in his NFL career. Patterson hasn't fumbled in nearly a year, and just once in 20 games. Can't tell me that's not at least a factor.

That makes running back usage a layercake, doesn't it? There's no doubting Robinson's talent and ability to make folks miss in normal and short-yardage situations. An underrated quality about Robinson is his ability to be a banger without taking big hits. (And, yes, I've seen his stats in short-yardage situations. They're the best on the team.)

Now, on to the bigger picture: Naturally, folks aren't thrilled with the No. 8 overall pick taking 38% of all Falcons carries and 28% of the total touches. By contrast, Derrick Henry takes 44% of the total touches. Christian McCaffrey takes 42% of the 49ers' touches. Seattle's Kenneth Walker has 39.7% of the touches and Cincinnati's Joe Mixon takes 39.8%.

(As a note, I picked those names among the few consistently healthy feature backs this season).

Miami's Raheem Mostert also takes 28% of the total touches, The reason why I bring that up: The Dolphins have tons of weapons like Atlanta does.

Robinson has the biggest share of Falcons total offense despite having the second-highest level of touches. All that said, there are short-term plans and long-term visions for such a talent over the course of a season. How can you use him effectively while keeping him relatively fresh over the long haul, while setting him up to be productive down the stretch?

"For any rookie, the seasons are long," head coach Arthur Smith said. "You're going to have ebbs and flows. He still has a huge impact on the game. He's got 700 yards. You're still looking for ways, and you know it's a long journey. We'll see how this second half of the season goes. But he's been a huge part of our offense and he'll continue to be."


Ron Rogers from Asheville, N.C.

Do you think the Falcons will finally make QB a priority in the next draft? Maybe it's time for "best QB available" instead of "best player available". We put a good team together but have gone backup QB for three years in a row, doesn't seem to be working.

Bair: A draft question for a contender in early November? Ron, that might be a record. Ha. But I'm answering it because it's not out of place. Ron's core inquiry is about the team's long-term plan at quarterback; it's valid because it's up in the air through nine weeks of the season.

Can't say Desmond Ridder is for sure the guy at this point when there has been an in-season quarterback change. We don't know who's the quarterback coming out of the bye, let alone in 2024.

At this point, I would say the Falcons could and should be in the quarterback market. I reserve the right to change my mind over the next eight games, but, bottom line, uncertainty abounds at this point. Does that mean a first-round pick is coming up? Or a trade? Or a free-agent pickup? The Falcons could execute all three options.

We can say there's still a need for a Falcons franchise quarterback to emerge. Could Desmond Ridder eliminate that desire if he gets the starting gig back and owns it down the stretch? It would depend on how he does in clutch moments and with ball security. If he performs well, I still think competition comes in. If those things don't happen, a heavy investment at quarterback just might be required.


Ed Helinskis from Auburn, New York

In your estimation, how many of the 8 remaining games how many are the Falcons winning? And against which teams?

Bair: I'm not in the prediction business, Ed, but I can see what you're getting at. How many games do the Falcons need to win to stay in legit playoff contention? While there are wild-card berths available and tiebreakers that might influence that, let's focus right now on the most direct path to the playoffs.

We all know what that is: Winning the division.

Tampa Bay won last year's NFC South with an 8-9 record. That ain't cuttin' it this time around. I don't think it'll take 12 or 13 wins, either, but above .500 is a must. New Orleans is starting to figure things out on offense and has won two in a row, albeit against subpar teams.

There's talent there on both sides of the ball in New Orleans, and the Saints should be in it until the end. Tampa Bay's tough to figure out, so this could end up a two- or three-team race depending on how the Bucs respond to a losing slide.

The Falcons are already a game back in the NFC South but they've got four division games left, including two against the Saints.

If they can go from 4-5 to 10-7, that should do it, especially if they beat the Saints twice and take care of business within the division. That's 6-2 over the final stretch, which sounds like a lot. Getting to just 9-8 puts the division up in the air, unless you hand New Orleans two losses and they stumble in an unexpected spot.

All this will require stacking wins, something the Falcons haven't done quite yet. They'll need consistency to do that, especially in their areas of deficiency, to achieve ultimate goals.

Debbie Spence from Charles Town, W.V.

Sorry to bug you again but I would like to know why we do not have a QB coach? I have read many articles, including one with Matt Ryan , that say that a QB coach is one of the most important positions on the team. They help the QB with their footwork, reads, ball throwing and timing along with confidence. Do you not think that Ridder could be better if he had someone to help guide him? Someone who specifically caters to his needs. Just a thought.

Bair: Hey Debbie. I never mind frequent correspondence. I welcome it, fact. This is an easy question to answer that should clear up discrepancies about roles and responsibilities on staff. Yes, the Falcons don't have a quarterbacks coach by title, but OC Dave Ragone runs the quarterback room. He has been a quarterbacks coach in two other organizations and was a quarterback himself, so he knows how to develop passers from a technical perspective. He assists with game plans and play designs – he and Arthur Smith have a strong friendship and working relationship – but Smith is the play caller. That's why the Falcons can function without a true QB coach, because Ragone fills two roles.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Arizona Cardinals, presented by Fast Twitch.

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