Marcus Mariota and Geno Smith are living similar NFL lives these days.
Both have been cast off and discarded by other teams in the past. Both are currently with franchises in some mode of rebuild.
And both are trying to prove they are more than just stopgap options until the next opportunity arrives for either the Atlanta Falcons or Seattle Seahawks to draft a young quarterback with the tag of being the next face of the franchise.
An early examination of where each stands in that process arrives Sunday when the Seahawks host the Falcons.
And both Seattle coach Pete Carroll and Atlanta coach Arthur Smith believe the quarterbacks on the other side have each been devalued at times during their respective careers.
“I’ve always liked him. I’ve always liked his athleticism and his running ability,” Carroll said of Mariota. “He’s always been able to do a little bit of everything well. He can even throw the ball too. He kind of got mired in a backup role. He looks like a starter to me.”
Mariota’s started strong, even if the Falcons are 0-2 with a pair of close losses to New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams. Mariota threw for 215 yards and rushed for another 72 yards in the opener. In Week 2, the yards were less but he threw a pair of touchdowns.
The issue for Mariota has been turnovers. He lost a fumble in Week 1 and had two interceptions in the loss to the Rams.
“It’s really all of us,” Smith said. “I know the quarterback is obviously going to get the attention, that’s the nature of the job and the business. There’s a lot of things we’ve seen improvement and there’s things we’ve got to do better.”
Smith is the most accurate passer in the league through two weeks, completing 81% of his throws. But many of those throws are short and safe. Last week, concern about the pass rush from San Francisco led to a conservative game plan that had the Seahawks offense stuck in neutral.
Carroll said this week it’s time to remove any restriction on how Smith and the offense operates.
“I give him a lot of credit, he’s a very resilient player, he’s playing really well right now and there’s a lot to be said for that,” Smith said. “It doesn’t go the way he probably envisioned when he got drafted and he comes back and keeps swinging. I’ve got so much respect for guys like that and he’s been playing really solid football for the Seahawks.”
WEST COAST LIVING
The Falcons stayed on the West Coast following their loss in Los Angeles and spent the week practicing in Seattle at the University of Washington. Smith saw the extended road trip as a significant positive, especially in the early stages of the season.
The Falcons did something similar in 2016 playing at Denver and then spending the week in Seattle before playing the Seahawks.
“There’s a lot of benefits especially early in the season. I think it’s kind of where we’re at, the timing couldn’t be better if we use it the right way,” Smith said. “I’m thankful we’re in an organization that allows you to do this and the way the schedule worked out.”
Seattle’s offense was supposed to be carried by its run game and not by Smith’s passing. So far, that run game has been missing. The Seahawks are last in the league in averaging a meager 56 yards per game rushing through the first two weeks. Last week against the 49ers, Seattle had just 36 yards rushing, just the sixth time in Carroll’s tenure the Seahawks have been held to fewer than 40 yards rushing. The Seahawks had just 34 yards rushing in a loss at Washington last season.
Rookie wide receiver Drake London has been Mariota’s favorite option while showing why he was the No. 8 overall selection in this year’s NFL draft. London, the former Southern California standout, has at least five catches for 70 or more yards in his first two games. The only NFL player to reach those standards in his first three NFL games was Houston’s Andre Johnson in 2003.
London had eight catches for 83 yards and his first touchdown in last week’s loss to the Rams.
The Falcons are developing good depth at inside linebacker even with Deion Jones opening the season on injured reserve.
Rookie Troy Andersen showed his big-play potential with his blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by Lorenzo Carter last week.
Smith likes Mykal Carter, in his third season, as a starter beside veteran Rashaan Evans. Expect the Falcons to continue to find ways to utilize Andersen’s speed on special teams and certain situations on defense.
“We’ll continue to enhance his role,” Smith said of Andersen before adding “but that’s no shot at anything Mykal Walker or Rashaan Evans have done. Troy is a good football player, and I think we’re bringing him along the right way.”
Andersen (6-4, 235) was a second-round draft pick from Montana State, where he played linebacker, quarterback and running back.