The Falcons are far exceeding preseason expectations, sitting 2-2 and tied for the division lead with the Buccaneers. Obviously, the wins haven’t come against the most impressive competition, but Atlanta has remained competitive in each game this season despite the clear lack of talent — spending the least amount of cap dollars allocated to their active roster. Credit to Arthur Smith and this coaching staff because there has been a tangible shift in the culture. There have been plenty of contributions from some unlikely players — Kaleb McGary, Ta’Quon Graham, etc. But there have also been players that have underperformed expectations.
Several players deserve to be mentioned. Casey Hayward has struggled in most games, failing to live up to his reputation. My expectations for the veteran corner were high because of his experience and past accomplishments. However, he looks to be improving each week, so he has plenty of time to earn his money.
The Falcons traded for Bryan Edwards earlier this offseason, but it hasn’t quite worked out as each side had hoped. The former Raiders wideout was in the game for nearly half of the offensive snaps in Week 1, but his workload took a severe dip the following week. Since, he’s been a healthy scratch each of the past two weeks as the team gives more opportunities to Khadarel Hodge. Still, Edwards is not the most disappointing player because nobody expected him to come to Atlanta and be WR1 or even WR2.
Kyle Pitts has been a massive disappointment but to no fault of his own. The former No. 4 overall pick has logged 10 receptions for 150 yards through four games. To make matters worse, Pitts put up half of those catches and 87 yards in Week 3 against the Seahawks. The scheme and quarterback play are more to blame for his less-than-ideal production. In fact, Pitts has improved in one specific facet of his game that has long been demonized — blocking. Now dealing with a hamstring injury, Pitts’ 2022 season could be a forgetful one. Again, to no fault of his own, though.
The most disappointing player this year has to be Marcus Mariota. Expectations weren’t sky-high for the veteran signal caller when he arrived in Atlanta; he was never the long-term answer for the Falcons. Everyone knew that. Most believed Desmond Ridder had a real shot at unseating him this offseason, and Mariota has done little to quiet the calls for the rookie.
Mariota completed just 7 of 19 passing attempts for 139 yards and an interception in the Falcons’ win over the Browns last Sunday. On the season, he’s completing less than 60% of his passes while averaging fewer than 200 yards passing. He’s thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) and has fumbled the ball six times, losing three of them. Overall, Mariota is 29th in the NFL in completion percentage, 11th in interceptions, 27th in passing touchdowns, 27th in passer rating, and 25th in yardage.
Granted, as a runner, he’s given Arthur Smith a ton of play calling flexibility and has a ton of value in being able to extend plays. He’s just an extremely sporadic quarterback; the highs are high, and the lows are low. It’s a team game, but if he doesn’t fumble in the red zone against the Saints, the Falcons are 3-1 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Again, expectations weren’t high to begin with, but Mariota is undoubtedly underperforming. The more he plays, the more apparent he is a backup-caliber quarterback in this league, and there’s value in that, just not when you’re trying to win games. Plenty of teams would love a high-quality backup, but there’s no reason he should be taking snaps from Desmond Ridder, who could be the long-term answer. The only way to find out is to play the rookie, which will become increasingly demanded by the fan base as Marcus Mariota continues to struggle.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire