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5Qs and 5As with The Falcoholic: What’s with those blown leads?

On blown leads, Marcus Mariota’s first start since 2019 and how to get Kyle Pitts more involved

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday in hopes of providing a more competitive game for the home crowd. Last week’s 21-point loss in the season opener against the Bills was one to forget, but the Rams are the biggest favorites of Week 2: L.A. is a 10.5-point favorite according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

LA isn’t the only team trying to get over a painful loss. Atlanta built a surprising 16-point lead against the Saints which they lost in typical Falcons fashion.

With both teams looking to rebound, I sent some questions over to Kevin Knight of SB Nation’s Falcons blog The Falcoholic to gain more insight into the Rams’ opposition this week.

Q - Blowing leads have unfortunately become associated with the Falcons in recent years. Luckily, this wasn’t as painful as the infamous “28-3” but blowing a 16-point lead to the Saints on opening weekend did little to change that narrative. Who or what was the biggest culprit for the loss to New Orleans and how do they fix that as the season progresses?

A - A defensive series with about 13 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter completely changed the game. Atlanta started a defensive front consisting entirely of reserve and run-stuffing specialists. New Orleans noticed this, ran no huddle so Atlanta couldn’t sub, and scored effortlessly a few plays later. That massive mistake gave the Saints life, and they rolled from there. Ultimately, Atlanta still should have won the game, but elected to punt on 4th and 1 from the New Orleans 42 with less than a minute to go. That sort of cowardly mindset is exactly why this team has earned the “choker” reputation over the years. We can only hope that Arthur Smith and Dean Pees learn from this, but I’m not holding my breath. After all, this has continued to happen with two completely different regimes and rosters. Maybe Atlanta is just cursed?

Q - On Sunday, quarterback Marcus Mariota made his first start since he was with the Tennessee Titans. On paper, Mariota didn’t have the worst game but he had a crucial fumble in the third quarter which played a key role in the Saints’ comeback. Despite the turnover, how would you assess his first start with the Falcons and how could he improve his game against LA?

A - Mariota was pretty good outside of the absolutely crushing fumble. His biggest issues in his first start in Atlanta were his refusal to slide—he will not make it through 17 games if he continues taking hits like in Week 1—and his tendency to prefer checkdowns and shorter throws instead of allowing deeper routes to develop. There were a few occasions when he had time to wait for deeper routes to develop, but he chose to throw short of the sticks. Patience and willingness to trust his blockers and his receivers to come open are two areas to work on.

Q - Second-year tight end Kyle Pitts had a very quiet game week one. He caught just two of his seven targets for 19 yards. Obviously the guy is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses so how would you like to see Head Coach Arthur Smith getting him more involved in the offense?

A - The Saints sold out to stop Kyle Pitts and it showed. That being said, the Falcons going away from him completely in the second half was inexplicable and the team still refuses to target Pitts in the red zone. I have no explanation for the team’s decisions regarding Pitts, it boggles the mind. He’s the type of player you simply have to target, because there’s a good chance he can make a low-percentage play happen far more often than with any other receiver.

Q - Wide receiver Drake London made his NFL debut by catching five passes for 74 yards. How are you feeling about his potential and were there any other youngsters on the team that have caught your eye so far?

A - With Kyle Pitts occupying the majority of the Saints’ attention on defense, Drake London had an opportunity to make them pay. He did, and was very effective coming off the knee injury that sidelined him for almost the entire preseason. He’s a perfect complement to Pitts and showed exactly what the team was hoping to see in Week 1. Now he just needs to continue to get healthy and build a rapport with Mariota. In terms of other young players, rookie edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie had a crucial sack and was quite effective on just 43% of the snaps.

Q - Disappointing loss aside, the Falcons showed that they might not be as big of a pushover as the league and media pundits had anticipated. What was the biggest surprise about the team’s initial efforts and how does Atlanta build upon it?

A - Thus far, the Falcons pass rush actually showing life has been the biggest surprise. Putting up 4 sacks against a New Orleans offensive line that has been pretty good at protecting the QB in recent years was impressive. On the other side, Atlanta’s offensive line performed far better than expected against a very stout Saints defensive front. They allowed no sacks and just one QB hit, and paved the way for the best rushing performance we’ve seen from the Falcons in years. Atlanta piled up 201 rushing yards against the #1 rushing defense in terms of yards per carry last season, and broke New Orleans’ streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher for 20 games with Cordarrelle Patterson’s 22 carry, 120-yard performance. If the Falcons can maintain that momentum on both sides of the ball, they’ll be a much more competitive team than expected in 2022. Of course, they also have to figure out how to stop blowing leads, but one step at a time.