It’s been years since the Atlanta Falcons have been in first place in the NFC South. But at 4-4, that’s exactly where they find themselves ahead of Sunday’s home date with the Los Angeles Chargers (4-3).
Arthur Smith doesn’t want his team to rest on its laurels. But he is proud of the team’s resiliency and the culture that’s coming together in his second season as coach of the Falcons.
“We’ve just got a lot of good guys, and we’ve got a stable situation,” Smith said. “And I’m hopeful we can continue on this path.
“We try to find the right people and you try to foster the right climate and get the right type of guys. … If somebody doesn’t want to do it that way, you’re probably not changing them.”
Despite throwing two interceptions in Week 8’s dramatic 37-34 overtime win over Carolina, Marcus Mariota had his best passing outing of the season. The eight-year veteran completed 20 of 28 passes and recorded season highs in yards (253) and touchdowns (three).
He also had a 30-yard run in overtime, which set up the eventual game-winning 41-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo with 1:55 remaining.
“I thought when they rushed, they try to rush you down the middle or heavy, (Mariota) was able to get out get and extend that play and flip his hips around,” Smith said. “I thought he made some good plays on play-action. The one he had to Kyle (Pitts) on the first touchdown drive … I thought he progressed pretty well (in the pocket) too.”
Veteran Damiere Byrd has seen his role increase in the Falcons’ passing game in recent weeks — and his rapport with Mariota is improving. The seven-year pro had three receptions for 67 yards and a key 47-yard touchdown reception in the win over the Panthers.
“He’s taken advantage of his opportunity,” Smith said. “He’s a guy that’s been in our program and works extremely hard. He wasn’t getting a lot of snaps earlier in the year, but when his number has been called lately, he’s been making plays for us.”
The Falcons could be in line for another shootout in Week 9 squaring off against a high-powered Chargers offense that features quarterback Justin Herbert and versatile tailback Austin Ekeler.
Los Angeles ranks eighth in the NFL in scoring offense at 23.4 points per game, but at 27 points allowed on average it trails only Detroit for the worst scoring defense in the league. Similarly, the Falcons rank sixth in the league in scoring offense (25.0 ppg) and 28th in scoring defense (25.6 ppg).
“We know we have a challenge this week,” Smith said. “You got a team that’s coming off a bye with one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, so we got to be ready to roll in all three phases.”
–Running back Cordarrelle Patterson is scheduled to return from injured reserve this week. Smith said he’d “talk with team doctors and Cordarrelle” to come up with a plan on Wednesday. Smith did not provide an update on the status of starting cornerback A.J. Terrell (hamstring) and starting safety Jaylinn Hawkins (concussion), but said “if they’re trending like they could be ready, they’ll be out there.”
–Tight end Kyle Pitts had five catches for 80 yards and a score on nine targets against Carolina. The Chargers have had trouble defending the tight end position so he could be poised for a productive outing Sunday.
–Field Level Media