Is it time for the Atlanta Falcons to push the Desmond Ridder button?
Another week, another loss, and the question is being asked louder and louder: When will the Atlanta Falcons start Desmond Ridder?
The post-Matt Ryan era hasn’t exactly gotten off to the strongest of starts. Two games in, and there’s a palpable frustration surrounding the way in which the Atlanta Falcons are running their offense through their two defeats. Despite scoring at least 25 points in each of their two losses, fingers can legitimately be pointed at the side’s offense when dissecting how they’ve failed to put a win in the relevant column.
No small amount of blame can be pointed at quarterback play. Despite coming into the league with 2nd overall pedigree, Marcus Mariota’s NFL career has been fine at best, and painful at worst. His familiarity with Arthur Smith’s offense was the key driver behind securing the veteran signal caller’s services. It’s worth remembering, however, that Smith’s offense in Tennessee really took off once Mariota was benched for his backup, Ryan Tannehill.
We all hoped a couple of seasons away from the spotlight might do Mariota enough good to see about a revival of his career with the Atlanta Falcons. However, through the opening two weeks, it’s difficult to argue that things are pointing in that direction.
411 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions is hardly the worst stat line, but it’s the manner in which the games are playing out that’s a cause for concern. In week one, when the Falcons needed to push the ball down the field, Mariota’s errant accuracy made it near impossible for them to stem the resurgent Saints. In week two, Mariota’s accuracy was again brought into question, as a lofted pass was ultimately picked off to end the Falcons’ hopes of a victory.
Please don’t think I’m blaming Mariota for each of the Falcons’ defeats, by the way. I’m absolutely not. Atlanta’s inability to get a stop through the first three-quarters of the game in week two is a far bigger issue than Mariota’s play, for me. But, as we’ve seen multiple times over the past half a decade, when the results aren’t going your way, the quarterback tends to be the one to bear the brunt of the criticism. So it was inevitable, as Mariota scrambled for his life in an attempt to salvage a hail mary attempt, that the question would be asked: surely Ridder would be a better option?
It’s worth mentioning that Desmond Ridder, one of the Falcons’ third-round picks, was billed as a “pro-ready” quarterback heading into and subsequently out of, draft season. The idea being that, unlike a Patrick Mahomes or a Josh Allen, Ridder was ready to be productive now, rather than requiring a year or two to adapt. Hypothetically, you could remove Marcus Mariota right now, replace him with Desmond Ridder, and not necessarily see a great drop-off. With that in mind, it would certainly make a lot of sense to make a change at the quarterback position, if for no other reason than to see if Ridder is capable of being a player that could lead the Falcons into the coming seasons.
That’s not likely to happen. Arthur Smith was steadfast in his defense of Mariota, and it’s kind of understandable as to why. The Falcons are currently running a pretty balanced offense, averaging 4.3 yards per rush, and 5.6 yards per pass. Yes, that second figure isn’t exactly excellent, but it’s enough to keep you on schedule more often than not. For a team that’s currently trying to build more of a balanced offense, that’s got to be seen as a positive, and Mariota is certainly part of those efforts. My reason on Mariota is that he’s not likely to be the reason you win games, but he won’t lose you games singlehandedly either. It’s easy to see why Smith would rather roll with the known rather than the unknown during these early blows of the season. Not least while the team faces a pretty difficult schedule.
Crucially, the Falcons haven’t been horrible, per se. While I’ve taken far fewer positives from the near come-from-behind win than the blown-lead defeat (which is wild in itself), the Falcons have played both games close. With a number of tweaks on both sides of the ball (and getting their allegedly generational Tight End involved), you can see a scenario where these losses turn into wins. They aren’t a million miles from looking solid, incredibly, and it’s difficult to justify a change at quarterback under those circumstances.
Changing of the guard
The key thing to remember with Mariota is that, through his previous 7 seasons in the NFL, he never once played a full season. His approach to rushing the ball, and trying to pick up extra yards might look great (when it doesn’t result in a fumble), but it would undeniably take a toll on his body, resulting in injuries. There is almost a guarantee that Mariota will take enough hits to result in a missed game time.
There’s also the prospect of things not coming together. I’ve gotten the impression, from the off-season and pre-season, that this season is another “free-hit” for Arthur Smith and company. The front office doesn’t want to lose every week, but if they can show enough fight and grit and all those lovely Lions buzzwords, he’ll be the man to oversee a huge roster turnover next season. If the Falcons start the season 1-6 or 2-7, that’ll likely be the changing of the guard at the position. If for no other reason than to see what they’ve got ahead of draft season. While the Falcons are competitive, and while you can still see a path to the post-season (regardless of how much you have to squit), don’t expect the positional overhaul.
To answer the article’s own question, though: week ten at the Carolina Panthers.