Falcons Daily: Arthur Smith, Marcus Mariota discuss "fine line" between successful play extensions, breakdowns

The Falcons head coach said this line was magnified in Thursday night loss to Carolina, but what is this fine line? And how do the Falcons recognize it? 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After the Falcons loss to the Panthers last Thursday night, Marcus Mariota went back to one notion that he felt was the difference in his personal performance. He was pressing too much. Forcing too much.

"I was just trying to create a spark," Mariota said on Thursday night. "I think looking throughout my career, that's when I get myself in the most trouble. Ill-advised throws. Force things on the field. Instead of just maybe scrambling, getting a few yards and keeping the chains moving."

After using the weekend to reflect on the game itself, Arthur Smith said on Monday that the Falcons entire offense was pressing too much, in similar fashion to that of Mariota. However, Smith was quick to explain that pressing mentality was not simply on Mariota.

It was an issue felt team-wide, and it's something the Falcons haven't necessarily been one to do this season. Sure, they've had their moments of trying to force something to work offensively when it just isn't working, but this wasn't felt as significantly in earlier games as it was on Thursday. Smith said on Monday that he felt it was magnified in the Falcons most recent loss.

"You could see it all over the place," Smith said. "We've just got to be cleaner operationally, nobody needs to do more than what their job is and sometimes you've got to understand when the journey is over."

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There's a very fine line between extending a play and forcing - or pressing for - a play to happen. That fine line is indicated by this phrase Smith uses of "understanding when the journey is over."

But what does this really mean? If the line is so fine as to often confuse a play extension with trying to force a play to happen when it's not working, how do you find or even see this line?

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Like Smith has said before, it's not a one-size-fits-all answer. Every play has a different line. It's up to the offense, mainly the quarterback, to know at what point that line becomes too obvious to ignore.

It's also about understanding the consequences of ignoring said line.

Mariota thought back to a few instances in which the consequences were significant, like the interception he threw late in the first half against Carolina. He thought back to a couple third down sacks, too, as moments that he'd point to as examples of him thinking the journey of the play wasn't yet over when it was.

He reiterated what he said after Thursday's loss again a week later on Wednesday.

"I've always felt like when there's a lull on offense and we're not playing very well and we're not converting and there are not many points, I've always been the guy to be like, 'I'm going to go make a play,'" Mariota said, "and I think sometimes that gets me in trouble."

Here's the tricky part of this, though: You're talking mere seconds that separate a quarterback looking at that line and ultimately crossing it.

However, it should be noted that not every crossing of this metaphorical line is a bad thing. With Mariota at the helm of the offense, the Falcons have been able to extend plays in a beneficial way and at a clip they haven't been able to do so before.

Think back to the Falcons Week 9 game against the Chargers. In the first minute of the fourth quarter, Mariota stayed on his feet, scrambling around in the pocket for almost five seconds before finding Tyler Allgeier. The rookie running back caught the ball about three yards past the line of scrimmage and proceeded to run for an additional 21 yards for a 24-yard, first down pick up.

It's because of this production, too, that the line is so fine.

As Smith explains, you never want to take somebody's initiative away, particularly if that initiative helps you, which Mariota's did in that moment (and truthfully, in many moments in 2022).

"It is a fine line because there are times where we have been able to extend plays," Smith said, "and that creativity has allowed us some opportunities."

Mariota agreed, and pointed to a repeating pattern that he's noticed brings up negative plays for this offense at times.

"If my initial reaction is to scramble and throw it I think more times than not those have been good decisions," Mariota explained. "I think when I start to extend it and start to get pushed out to the sideline sometimes those plays become negative and bad decisions."

The difference between the good and bad decisions, though, lay almost solely in the outcome.

"You're back there forever and you're going laterally too long and (you have to) understand when the journey's over; not to take a sack or not to throw the ball back across the field and maybe put your foot in the ground and go, or throw it away," Smith said. "The hardest part sometimes is when you feel like you're in a game like we were Thursday night, as ugly as it felt at times the reality is we got the ball back with a chance to win it late and we could've avoided some of those negative plays."

"I don't know when any offense is going to be very effective if you're off track, but we've been pretty damn good when we've been on track and we just haven't been as consistent lately. Those are things that we can eliminate."

Elimination, effective and efficient. That's what Smith is asking of Mariota - and the entire offense - in these moments of play extension.

If efficiency and effectiveness is there, as well as the elimination of too many negative plays, the fine line between a successfully extended play and a play that feels forced is not nearly as fine.

"We talk about all the time that in order for this offense to continue to hum and to be in rhythm, I have to be efficient," Mariota said. "Sometimes being efficient means throwing the ball away. It means scrambling, getting a few yards and getting down. I can do a better job of that. (That's how) I can help this offense get in a rhythm, get going and continue to move the chains."

We take a monochrome look at the game against the Carolina Panthers on November 10, 2022.

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