Falcons may want Marcus Mariota to slide on some runs

DETROIT — Falcons coach Arthur Smith might have to call for quarterback Marcus Mariota to pump the brakes at the end of some of his future runs.

On the Falcons’ first offensive play from scrimmage against Detroit, Mariota broke loose to his right for a 7-yard gain. Instead of sliding, he took on defenders, including Lions first-round pick Aidan Hutchinson.

“I mean, he’s going to put it on the line, and there’s some things that you’re going to want him to get down and slide,” Smith said. “But he’s done a nice job. I mean, he’s another player that’s got a lot of speed that you have to defend from sideline to sideline.”

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Mariota rushed three times for 23 yards in the one series that he played. He capped the 12-play, 82-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, diving for the pylon to score.

“It’s kind of part of the highlight play, but all in all, I’m just trying to make the most of the drive, make the most of the plays,” Mariota said of his aggressiveness.

Part of Mariota’s history with the Titans is that he never played a full season, in part because of injuries. He played 12 games in 2015, 15 in 2016, 15 in 2017, 14 in 2018 and six in 2019 before he was benched.

Over the past two seasons, he was a backup to Derek Carr with the Raiders.

In addition to the runs, Mariota completed both of his passes for 36 yards.

“I thought it went well,” Mariota said. “There are some things we could clean up, but all in all, I thought we were efficient. We made plays and scored.”

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On first-and-20 after a penalty, Mariota found rookie wide receiver Drake London for a 24-yard gain.

“I mean, again, another guy that just kind of makes it easy,” Mariota said. “It was man coverage; he made a play to create separation. I gave him a chance with the ball, and he made the rest of it.”

London left the game with a minor knee injury. He was held out for precautionary reasons.

“He’s been very consistent,” Mariota said of the rookie. “He’s coming in and out of his breaks, so he gave me great body language. We just found a play. The look kind of allowed us to do that. Again, all through camp, all through practices, he does a great job of making it easy on us.”

After guiding the Falcons to a touchdown, Mariota was done for the first exhibition game.

“Well, we were going to play him a quarter and then he went down, and we got a pretty long drive and that was the plan,” Smith said.

Mariota was replaced by rookie Desmond Ridder, who finished the game. Smith was fine with Mariota’s aggressive play in the exhibition opener.

“You like to have guys who you’ve got to pull back because we’ve talked about it,” Smith said. “You’re in the (exhibition) season, wanted to get out, get a good drive going, but he can’t help himself. We have a lot of guys like that. And so, you want to have guys that you’ve got to pull back, not the guys you have to push to make go.”

In addition to Mariota’s runs, Ridder rushed six times for 59 yards.

“We didn’t have any designed runs,” Smith said. “We had plays that – we’ll continue to evolve there, but it’s (exhibition) season. We’re not going to show our hand in a lot of other stuff. But, when you have athletic quarterbacks and you’re able to move the pocket, they’re going to be able to extend plays.”

Ridder won the game with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jared Bernhardt on fourth-and-9 with 1:30 to play.

“It was good,” Smith said. “I mean, there’s some things that you’ve got to correct, and some things that I had to get him on the sideline about that he may not be able to see from the stands, the way the call went in. For his first performance out there, I thought it was pretty solid.”

The Lions were impressed with Ridder.

“I’ve been watching him since college,” Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes said. “He actually went to school where I’m from. He’s a good, dynamic quarterback. He loves running the ball, as you can tell. I think this league’s going to be good for him. I’m excited to see where it takes him.”

Mariota’s aggressiveness may have helped set the tone as the Falcons played a physical game.

“That’s the stuff we value,” Smith said. “I mean, it doesn’t just magically happen in a game; that’s the way we train. If you come out to one of our practices you’ll see that these guys compete in practice. It was good to see it show up (in a game).”

The Falcons, who will practice Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, are set to face the Jets at 8 p.m. Aug. 22 at MetLife Stadium.

“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Smith said.

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