I’d imagine if Arthur Smith came across this headline and did what so many of us ever do – not actually read the article – he’d furrow his brow at such an antagonistic and stupid question that continues to fuel a narrative.
In his defense, he’s not entirely wrong. The fact is Marcus Mariota has already led the Falcons to a victory. Two of them, in fact. Atlanta stands at 2-2 with a chance to take first place in the division solely for itself on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Mariota should be given credit for his role in that.
However, I’m not using lead in the literal sense of the word. I’m using LEAD as in the be a primary catalyst in a Falcons victory. Mariota has been a liability at times late in games and he needs to show that he can be an asset.
Mariota ranks 26th in the NFL with 779 passing yards through four games. He’s tossed three touchdowns to four interceptions while also gaining 95 yards and scoring twice on the ground. However, holding onto the ball has been the biggest problem for Mariota so far this season as he’s fumbled in every game. The current fumble total for Mariota stands at six, and each has come in the second half. Half of those fumbles have been recovered by the opposition.
One fumble came on the final Hail Mary attempt against the Los Angeles Rams, so we can perhaps forgive that one slightly. All others, though, came in opposing territory, including two in the red zone. A strong argument could be made that if Mariota had just one less fumble against New Orleans, the Falcons would be 3-1 right now.
So, it’s time for him to show he can clean up the mistakes. It’s already assured the Falcons will be without Cordarrelle Patterson, who went on IR this week, and it’s possible they will be without Kyle Pitts, who has not practiced with a new hamstring injury. Now that his surrounding cast has taken a hit, can Mariota make up the difference?
He wasn’t brought here to be a difference-maker necessarily, but this is a time when the team needs him to rise to the occasion. Schematically, the Falcons have done a good job putting Mariota in positions to succeed and keep the passing game threatening. And, to his credit, Mariota has made some great throws under duress and generally kept the offense functioning.
Atlanta has attempted only 98 passes so far this season, which is second-fewest to only Chicago. However, according to rbsdm.com, the Falcons have a dropback success rate of 51.2 percent, which ranks sixth in the league. That may be inflated slightly by the low number of passes, but it does indicate the Falcons know when and how to attack through the air.
The strength for this team, with or without Patterson, remains the run game. But if this team is to knock off a talented squad like Tampa Bay, which fancies itself a Super Bowl contender, the Falcons are going to need more from their starting quarterback.
Mariota has done enough so far but he’s going to have to start doing more, especially late in games. Atlanta needs him to take hold of his opportunities instead of dropping them; otherwise, it might be time to find someone who can.