Falcons Starter Won’t be ‘Benched Any Time Soon’

Marcus Mariota and Cordarrelle Patterson

Getty This Falcons' starter won't be "benched any time soon."

The Atlanta Falcons still have plenty to fix, despite opening their account for the 2022 NFL regular season by beating the Seattle Seahawks 27-23 in Week 3. There are still issues on a defense ranked 26th in points and 22nd in yards surrendered, while an offense that’s committed six turnovers needs to do a better job of protecting the football.

At least there’s good news for the Falcons at a key position, where a talented starter is fully entrenched after three games. In fact, one NFL writer is confident enough to proclaim this player “isn’t getting benched any time soon” because he now has the trust of coaches and teammates alike.

‘Atlanta Trusts’ Vital Starter

Marcus Mariota hasn’t taken long to win the confidence and faith of the Falcons, according to Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports. Kerr noticed that trust in the way the Falcons attacked the Seahawks’ defense: “Credit to Arthur Smith for trusting his starting quarterback to throw the football, as the Seahawks boxed the Falcons in and forced Mariota to throw. Smith dialled up the passing game in the first half, having Mariota throw the ball 14 times for 183 yards as he averaged 13.1 yards per attempt.”

The 13.1 yards per attempt Mariota managed in Seattle was significantly above his averages in the Falcons’ first two games. Mariota produced just 6.5 yards per completion against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and only upped the tally slightly to 7.5 yards against the Los Angeles Rams a week later.

Kerr credited the uptake in Mariota’s per-throw yardage to getting one particular playmaker more involved: “The Falcons targeted Kyle Pitts early and allowed Mariota to get into a rhythm with some big plays downfield. Mariota finished 13 of 20 for 229 yards with a touchdown and an interception, setting the stage for Cordarrelle Patterson’s huge day on the ground.”

Kyle Pitts needed to see more the ball, after the record-setting tight end made only four catches through the first two games. Pitts’ lack of targets went away against the Seahawks and his greater involvement kept the Seahawks from crowding the line of scrimmage, leaving running lanes brilliantly exploited by Patterson:

Patterson’s 141 rushing yards on 17 carries, along with Pitts’ five catches for 87 signposted a skill-position group that’s made Mariota’s attempts to succeed Matt Ryan as Atlanta’s QB1 easier.

Falcons Loaded with QB-Friendly Weapons

Mariota’s performances have been on an upward trend from generally steady to pretty dynamic, but most quarterbacks would thrive with the weapons he has at his disposal. Those weapons begin with Patterson, who has continued last season’s transition from do-all gadget player to true workhorse running back without missing a step.

Patterson’s continued ability to gain yards in chunks on the ground has altered the Falcons’ identity in a subtle but significant way. This is now a run-first offense that only demands its quarterback be accurate and selective when choosing his big plays through the air.

Mariota doesn’t need to throw 30-40 times while Patterson is running this effectively, per PFF Fantasy Football:

All of those chain-moving runs early are preventing defenses from keying on the passing game, making it easier for Mariota to find gaps in undermanned coverages. It’s easier still when his throws are being reeled in by two targets as towering as 6’6″ Pitts and rookie wide receiver Drake London.

It’s London who tops the team’s receiving charts after the 6’4″ former USC standout snared three of Mariota’s passes against the Seahawks. The eighth-overall pick in this year’s draft has now amassed 16 receptions, 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

A lot of the credit has to go to head coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone for keeping things simple. They are calling a scheme designed around one basic premise, according to NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger: “Cordarrelle, Kyle, Drake. Repeat.”

Baldinger broke down key plays from each member of Mariota’s marquee trio against the Seahawks. The early completions to Pitts and London show how the Falcons are creating quick and easy reads for Mariota.

Credit is owed Mariota for making and taking those reads with a veteran’s poise. He’s making the most of being in an ideal situation to revive his career after flopping as the second-overall pick by the Tennessee Titans in 2015.

Mariota lost his job with the Titans to Ryan Tannehill when Smith was the offensive coordinator. Yet, Smith remained enough of a believer in Mariota’s talents to give him another chance following two years spent as a backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Nobody connected with the Falcons is thinking of Mariota as a backup now, not even with the franchise’s investment in third-round pick Desmond Ridder. Instead, as Kerr declared, Mariota’s “the quarterback for 2022.”

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