As the 2023 season began, the Atlanta Falcons could tick nearly every box on their checklist: cap space – check; rebuilt defense – check; offensive weapons – check. However, when they examined the box labeled “quarterback,” there were likely tons of whiteout marks, scribbles, and perhaps a check mark accompanied by a question mark. Desmond Ridder's name filled the blank space, but it was filled with uncertainty and doubt.
When Ridder was drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, many wondered if the Falcons would eventually make him the team's starting quarterback. Ridder had achieved considerable success at Cincinnati in college, but third-round quarterbacks, with the exception of Russell Wilson, often didn't receive widespread acclaim. Ridder initially had to bide his time behind Marcus Mariota.
When Mariota joined the Falcons as a free agent last season, it was widely expected that he would serve as a temporary solution, grooming Ridder, as they shared a similar playing style. With only four games remaining in the season, Mariota was benched, and he subsequently left the team after Ridder was named the starter for the rest of the season. Since then, it has been Ridder's team.
Desmond Ridder had worst game of his career against Jaguars
The Falcons' lack of offensive production places blame in multiple directions, but it ultimately comes down to quarterback play. Some of the blame undoubtedly falls on head coach Arthur Smith and his run-first offensive system. However, watching Ridder struggle to connect with his skilled receivers, often staring them down when he does find them, it becomes evident that this experiment is growing increasingly problematic with each passing game.
In the season opener, Ridder boasted an 83.3% completion rate. In his next three games, that figure plummeted, averaging just 58.6%. During that time frame, he threw two touchdowns to three interceptions. Two of those interceptions came Sunday against the Jaguars, with both leading to scores, one being a pick-6.
Is this situation fixable? Can we draw conclusions after only seven games as to whether Ridder is the Falcons' quarterback of the future? There's much more at stake here than just Ridder's job.
Falcons must bench Desmond Ridder
Some may argue that it's unfair to make such a statement after just four games into the 2023 season. After all, the Falcons are still at 2-2 in what appears to be a winnable division. However, this is a pivotal year for the Falcons as they enter year three under Smith. Following two seasons with 7-10 records and no playoff appearances, Smith needs to win now. There may not be a next year.
This team now bears Smith's unmistakable imprint, particularly on the offense. Smith has implemented his scheme and assembled an offensive unit loaded with skilled position players that he believed could score points and secure victories. The running backs are in place, the receivers are ready, and even the versatile Cordarrelle Patterson occupies the joker position. Yet, the most crucial position of any professional sport remains vacant—the quarterback. Smith is one of about 20 other NFL teams, give or take, trying to fill that box at the quarterback position, so no sympathy will be extended to him, even if he loses his job.
At the start of the season, most Falcons' supporters held mild optimism about Ridder. Throughout the offseason, the Falcons' staff did their best to convince everyone that they didn't have to rest solely on the second-year quarterback to lead the team, given the abundance of weapons around him. However, this has not been the case. From Week 1 until now, Ridder seems to have regressed with each passing week, causing the Falcons' offense to sputter, if not completely stall.
“Whatever we have to do to jumpstart this thing, that's what we're going to do,” Arthur Smith said after the loss to the Jaguars, as reported by Todd McElhaney.
It took Smith 13 starts to replace Mariota as the starter, a decision made after the hopes of a promising season had already faded. How much longer will he wait before benching Ridder?