There'd been a report recently suggesting third-rounder Desmond Ridder would start for the Falcons, but maybe that was overly optimistic. A more recent one says that Mariota is "far ahead" of the rookie, which makes sense. It's probably good news for the offense, and its most desirable receiver.

We've been discussing the possible merits of rookie wideout Drake London, but few doubt the true No. 1 receiver in this offense will be tight end Kyle Pitts. And it seems that the veteran opening the season at quarterback will be a positive for him, based on Mariota's past.

Atlanta's offense is helmed by Arthur Smith, who worked with Mariota back in Tennessee. That offense, too, tended to have quality pass catchers at tight end, most notably Delanie Walker. And whether due to personnel, offensive construction, or the throws the quarterback is most comfortable with, Mariota has long been willing to feature his tight ends.

That includes around the goal line: Of the 17 touchdowns he's thrown in his last 13 full games (I've removed some contests where he played part-time, with either Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Tannehill also playing due to injury/performance), nearly half (8) have gone to tight ends.

YearOppCmpAttYdsTDTight EndsStats
2018at LAC24322371Stocker/Smith4-22-1
2018at Dall.21292402Jonnu Smith2-33-1
2018N.E.16242282Jonnu Smith3-45-1
2018at Ind.1013850Firkser/Smith9-88-0
2018at Hou.22233032Firkser/Smith6-115-1
2019at Cle.14242483Delanie Walker5-55-2
2019Ind.19281541Delanie Walker4-39-0
2019at Jax23403040Walker/Smith9-84-0
2019at Atl.18272273Walker/Smith2-9-0
2020LAC17282261Darren Waller9-150-1

Mariota's last great start, as it happens, was at Atlanta back in 2019: 227 yards and 3 TDs in a 24-10 win. Two weeks later he was on the bench, with a single noteworthy performance in relief of Derek Carr (in which Waller had a big game, as shown above) the last two seasons.

Mariota still seems unlikely to start the full season; maybe not even half. If Atlanta starts out 2-6, there will be little point in continuing to send Mariota out onto the field, assuming Ridder shows some potential in the preseason.

But as long as he's in the lineup, Mariota will probably be looking for Pitts regularly. no matter how much defensive attention he's drawing. The goal-line rapport Mariota has had with his TEs in the past should help him blow away the measly 1 TD he caught as a rookie.

--Andy Richardson