Falcons’ Arthur Smith promises transparency about player changes

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Arthur Smith on Monday said he will be transparent about any personnel changes, notably at quarterback, made during the bye week.

Smith said he will announce decisions Dec. 12, ahead of that week’s game at New Orleans.

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Smith said Marcus Mariota wasn’t at the training facility Monday because his wife went into labor with their first baby.

“There are things like that that come up, and we’ll have some very intense meetings the next couple of days,” Smith said. “We know where we’re at, and we understood, too, that we’ve been in some close games lately, and we need to get back over the hump. There will be changes made. Everything that we decide to do I’ll be as transparent as possible.”

The Falcons lost 19-16 to the Steelers on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The offense, led by Mariota, didn’t convert any of its four third downs in the first half. The team has lost four of its past five games. It has four games remaining.

The team (5-8) is chasing the Bucs to win the NFC South. Tampa Bay is playing New Orleans on Monday night. Smith said Tampa’s results won’t affect his decisions.

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“We’ve got to get over this hump here, and there are a lot things at stake,” Smith said. “It’s going to be what’s best for this team short term and long term.”

If any changes are made, Smith said he doesn’t think it’s a “knee-jerk reaction” because the sample size is 13 games. He said the coaches will try to be objective. Smith said the team is doing a lot of good things, but there are lots of things that need to be improved.

Smith didn’t blame the team’s issues squarely on Mariota. He said it needs to be better in all phases. He pointed out the offense has been in too many third-and-longs the past five weeks and that the defense needs to make more stops on third downs. The Steelers converted 50% of their third downs. Repeating what he said Sunday, Smith said the offense needs more possessions.

“We’re at a point in the season where we’ve got a lot of things to look through and we keep up with week after week,” he said.

Rookie Desmond Ridder is the quarterback that many of the team’s supporters are calling to see. Ridder has yet to play this season. Smith implied that Ridder’s lack of experience may not be a factor. He said there are things the coaches do with all inexperienced players to prepare them for the speed of a live game. Smith said every player is unique when it comes to deciding if they are ready.

“If you think it’s the best thing for you in that moment, yeah, we’re going to do that,” he said. “That’s what you’re paid to do. Our circumstances are very different today than they were a couple of weeks ago for different reasons, not just football but just the reality of our situation.”

Injury updates: Smith said he expects guard Elijah Wilkinson, guard Chuma Edoga, center Matt Hennessy and defensive lineman Jalen Dalton to return before the game against the Saints. The team has until Wednesday to decide if it’s going to activate lineman Jalen Mayfield.