Here’s what we know about Falcons’ Marcus Mariota after five games

FLOWERY BRANCH — No one knew what to expect when the Falcons elected to move on from former quarterback Matt Ryan after 14 seasons and six trips to the playoffs.

On the same day Ryan was traded, the Falcons signed Marcus Mariota, and later they drafted Desmond Ridder. Through five games, the picture of the Falcons’ new quarterback is much clearer.

Mariota and the Falcons (2-3) are set to face the San Francisco 49ers (3-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“His leadership is one thing that stands out,” Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts said.

The Falcons have managed to get two wins with some hot-and-cold play from Mariota. It literally has been a mixed bag. Mariota makes plays but then follows them with blunders.

He completed 20 passes and ran for 72 yards against the Saints, but a Mariota fumble at the 5-yard line helped lead to defeat.

Against the Rams, the defense and special teams helped to rally the Falcons from a 28-3 deficit. With a chance to win the game, Mariota threw in the direction of Jalen Ramsey, one of the top corners in the NFL, and was intercepted.

The Falcons needed defensive stops against Seattle and Cleveland to win those games. Mariota had a key fumble late in the Seattle game.

His interception in the Cleveland game led the Falcons to calling 14 consecutive running plays.

In Game 5, against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Mariota committed his seventh fumble of the season. He has fumbled in every game. Mariota rushed for 61 yards and led two touchdown drives after going down 21-0 against the Buccaneers.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith was asked how he feels about Mariota’s performance through five games.

“Well, I think there’s a lot of ways to look at it,” Smith said. “I think there’s some guys that necessarily won’t make the right play, and they’ll take sacks. There’s guys that try to get you out, he got us out of a lot of jams (against the Bucs).”

The Bucs tried to blitz the Falcons incessantly, and Mariota was sacked five times and hit 11 times.

“They did everything they could to bring every kind of pressure known to man, which we anticipated, and then as the game started to go on, I thought we adjusted well,” Smith said. “We were able to hit some big runs because of it and hit some big passes.”

Smith, who calls the plays, wants the unit to execute better and doesn’t single out Mariota. He also lamented the missed 52-yard field-goal attempt by Younghoe Koo that would have made it a one-score game right before halftime.

“So, I don’t know how that’s on the quarterback,” Smith said.

Mariota is 71-of-123 passing (57.7%) for 926 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He has a passer rating of 78.8.

Ryan, who’s off to a 2-2-1 start with the Colts, has completed 128 of 195 passes (65.6%) for 1,376 yards, five touchdowns and a league-leading seven interceptions and 11 fumbles. He has a passer rating of 79.8, which would be below his career worst of 80.9 in 2009, his second season in the league.

Smith is just fine with Mariota’s play.

“I think he’s doing a really nice job at simple plays, quarterback rating be damned,” Smith said. “He’s gotten us out of it because if he hasn’t, then there could’ve been some other negative plays.”

Smith prides himself and his coaching staff in making objective critiques of the team, especially in film-review sessions.

“So, not perfect at all, I think that he’s continuing to see him in a rhythm when you watch the tape, especially in the drop-back game,” Smith said. “We got to be better in some of the other first- and second-down passing-game (situations).”

The Falcons have even looked at some of their play designs to help Mariota and the offense perform.

“When you’re asking him to do that, some of the movement passes, they’re not clean progression reads, and that’s stuff that we have to look at as coaches, and everybody, I think, we can do better there,” Smith said. “So, the completion percentage, whatever. I worry more about situational football, turnover margin, making sure we’re clean in the red zone, which, what were we, 2-for-2 in the red zone (against the Bucs)?”

The Falcons are minus-1 in takeaways (7) and giveaways (8). The Falcons have converted 61.1% of their red-zone trips, which ranks tied for ninth in the league.

“Need to get down there more, but there’s a lot of ways to look at it,” Smith said. “I do have an appreciation for guys that will not take negative plays, regardless of their stats.”

Mariota hadn’t played regularly since the 2019 season, so there was going to be some rust to shake off.

“As the weeks go on, just feeling more comfortable,” Mariota said. “For not playing for a couple of years, sometimes you (have) to get some real game experience, and, for me, it’s feeling more and more comfortable week in and week out.”

The Falcons rank third in rushing (164.6 yards per game) and 10th in scoring (23.6 points) in the NFL.

“We’ll find ways to improve,” Mariota said. “We’ll find ways to get better on third down and score points. For me, I feel very comfortable.”

The Falcons are vested in Mariota at this time and have no obvious plans to turn to Ridder, who was the second quarterback taken in the last draft, while Kenny Pickett (first round, 20th) is playing in Pittsburgh, and Bailey Zappe (fourth round, 137th) has been pressed into duty in New England. Malik Willis (third, 86th) has played in a game with Tennessee and has completed one pass in four attempts.

Smith apparently is an advocate of the old football axiom: “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD