Falcons QB Marcus Mariota needs to protect himself

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The Falcons offense has a new identity with Marcus Mariota under center. The veteran quarterback’s mobility has illuminated a facet of Arthur Smith’s offense that was otherwise untapped with Matt Ryan as the signal caller. The effects were profound; Atlanta’s offense rushed for over 200 yards, kept the Saints defense on their heels, and stifled one of the best pass rushing defenses in football. Mariota’s ability to extend plays with his legs and give Smith the ability to call designed quarterback runs and rollouts has added a wrinkle the Falcons offense hasn’t had in a long time, but at what cost?

Mariota threw for 215 yards on 60.6% passing, adding 72 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The Falcons’ offense looked balanced and was reminiscent of the Titans’ offense under Smith — zone rushing attack with play action rollouts built off the run. With Mariota in Atlanta, the Falcons focused on getting their passer out of the pocket. It also gave Smith the ability in short-yardage situations to use the quarterback as an additional runner, something he did sparingly last season with the far less mobile Ryan. However, Mariota took a beating.

It’s something I’ve been talking about since the team’s first preseason game against the Lions, in which Mariota was a fearless runner. He took unnecessary hits in an exhibition game that meant absolutely nothing. And it’s something I even joked about at the time.

It is just a light-hearted joke. I am not rooting for Mariota to get hurt; in fact, I cringe every time he runs because of his injury history and status as the team’s starting quarterback. Since 2015, the former No. 2 overall pick has dealt with a slew of injuries; below is a detailed account of his lengthy injury history.

Date League Injury Details
Jan 12, 2015 Non-NFL Shoulder A/C Joint Sprain Mariota sprained his right shoulder in the National Championship game.
Oct 18, 2015 NFL Knee MCL Sprain Grade 2 Mariota was rolled up on in Week 6 against the Dolphins and sprained his MCL. He missed the next two games.
Dec 20, 2015 NFL Knee MCL Sprain Grade 2 Mariota sprained his right MCL and missed the final two games.
Dec 24, 2016 NFL Leg Fibula Fracture In Week 16, Mariota suffered a broken fibula against the Jags.
Oct 1, 2017 NFL Thigh Hamstring Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1 Mariota missed only 1 game.
Dec 22, 2018 NFL Cervical Neck Stinger Mariota missed the season finale.
Sep 9, 2018 NFL Arm Elbow Sprain Mariota missed 1 game with a pinched nerve.
Nov 18, 2018 NFL Cervical Neck Stinger Mariota missed 1 half of play but returned the following week vs. Houston.
Aug 27, 2020 NFL Chest Pectoral Strain Grade 2 Mariota was placed on injured reserve as he was dealing with a strained pectoral during the training camp. He missed the first five games of 2020 season.
Aug 12, 2021 NFL Leg Quad Strain Mariota missed preseason games because of a quad injury
Sep 13, 2021 NFL Leg Quad Strain Mariota aggravated a strained quadriceps during the Week 1 win over the Ravens. He was placed on IR and missed five games.

Marcus Mariota is the team’s QB1 and needs to act like it. He has to protect himself. But he knows that. In a conversation with Michael Rothstein of ESPN, he acknowledged the difficult balance between pushing and protecting himself.

“It’s finding a happy medium. It’s really understanding situations. But I’m a competitor and I’m going to continue to kind of play the way I’ve always played since I was a kid. But yes, I think there’s situations looking back on it in a game where I would have liked to have slid, especially on the turnover. But, at the end of the day, it’s kind of the nature of the beast and you live and you grow and that’s what I’m planning on doing”

Rothstein then asked if it was hard for Mariota to slide.

“Not really. I think over the course of my career I’ve been tentative in sliding and I think for me I don’t want to play that way. I don’t want to play tentative. I want to play fast and I want to be just going out there and not worrying about anything. So if it comes naturally to slide I will but I’m not going to take away the competitiveness.”

Rothstein continued asking if he was tentative to slide.

“It’s hard, right. As a quarterback, you get into positions to where it’s like, do I slide to avoid a hit but then you’re in between a couple of guys and you end up taken a worse hit than maybe if you just played a play. Being understanding of those situations, sometimes you may expose yourself sliding maybe in a crowded kind of area. So, I don’t know. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily something that I think about on the field. It’s something that happens naturally.”

Mariota is as competitive as they come in the National Football League. Fans in Atlanta got their first glimpse of that against the Saints when the veteran scrambled multiple times without giving himself up. He fights for every yard, which certainly provides a spark for the team and fan base, but he constantly puts himself in harm’s way. You never want a guy to change his style of play, but at some point, he has to realize that he’s QB1. Mariota can still be effective as a runner without taking unnecessary hits, especially senseless hits in the preseason.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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