“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the staircase”Martin Luther King, Jr.
What does faith mean to you? When does it show itself in your life? When this faith is tested, what do you do? For the Atlanta Falcons, these questions of faith are personified through a spirited third-round quarterback with athletic upside out of the University of Cincinnati. Brace yourself, Falcons fans. The fate of the 2023 Atlanta Falcons offense lies in the 10-inch hands of second-year quarterback, Desmond Ridder.
For some fans, this means nothing more than allowing a young, plucky future franchise quarterback to get reps, so they may grow to evolve into the best version of themselves. They’ve seen how faith in a quarterback’s intangibles and physical gifts has worked for teams such as the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles.
For others, this is the beginning of the end of the Terry Fontenot-Arthur Smith regime, as the belief in the second-year signal caller seems to be misplaced. This is mismanagement at the most important position on the football field and consequences/repercussions will shortly follow. And those consequences will be dire.
Which is the correct take? Only time will tell.
Today, however, we discuss how Fontenot and Smith have shown their belief and built this Falcons offense around Desmond Ridder. And we try to figure out whether or not it will or will not pay off in the long run.
Disclaimer: All statistics were from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise specified.
Desmond Ridder Holds The Fate Of The Atlanta Falcons In His Hands
Biting The Bullet
Over the last two drafts, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have been mimicking Chris Tucker’s character Smokey from Friday. If you got Kool-Aid, there’s no sugar. Peanut butter, no jelly. Ham, no burger. Long story, short, there was not much talent to work with around the quarterback position.
Smith has spent the last two years molding together an offense out of scraps. The WR1 in 2021 was Kyle Pitts. While Pitts is a tight end by name only, he lined up out wide 237 times out of necessity, not creativity.
Smith had to mold two completely different offenses for two quarterbacks who win in different ways. In 2021, Matt Ryan was 11th in the league in Play Action Attempt Rate (Play Action Pass Attempts/Total Pass Attempts) and 12th in Play Action Yardage Rate (Play Action Passing Yards/Total Passing Yards). To contrast, Marcus Mariota ranked 20th and 21st in those categories in 2022. However, Mariota was first in both RPO Attempt Rate and RPO Yardage Rate in his lone season as Atlanta Falcons quarterback. Ryan ranked 25th and 18th, respectively.
Smith was tasked with creating two entirely different offenses based on his quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses. He has not yet got a chance to truly solidify an identity for his offense. That is, until now.
Building Around The Quarterback
This off-season, with both money and draft picks to utilize, the Atlanta Falcons started truly building their identity. They essentially bought a brand-new defense for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to mold. Headlined by star acquisitions — that’s right, plural — Jessie Bates and Calais Campbell.
While they were at it, they decided to deal a couple of their late picks to the Patriots and Lions for tight end Jonnu Smith and cornerback Jeff Okudah, respectively. Both coming off of lackluster years and looking to bounce back in pivotal years in their careers.
To cap off the spending spree, they get human highlight reel, Bijan Robinson, in the first round of the draft, while also adding first-round talent, Matthew Bergeron, to help solidify the line in the second round.
Ultimately, this regime has done everything it can to make sure they get a full evaluation of their second-year quarterback. They have surrounded Ridder with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Not just that, they have surrounded him with talent that will emphasize the strengths of his game, just like Smith’s scheme did Mariota and Ryan.
How Desmond Ridder Wins
To answer this question, you have to go back to Ridder’s days at the University of Cincinnati. According to Benjamin Solak of The Ringer, Ridder was one of the more accurate passers in the 2021 class and a lot of that has to do with his pre-snap process.
One thing pundits gushed about when it came to Ridder was the command he had over the offense and the freedom he was given by his coaches. He was able to get his guys in the right spots and get them the ball in more advantageous spots so they could show off their skill sets.
Alec Pierce was Ridder’s favorite target, and for good reason. Ridder sometimes struggled with his accuracy. During the pre-draft process, that was the main knock on Ridder’s play. However, with the 6’3″, 213 pound Pierce, it was tough to miss him over the top. Especially on those sideline fades that that offense liked to spam as they got closer to the endzone.
Now, Ridder has 6’5″ Drake London and 6’6″ Kyle Pitts to hit towards the sideline.
One of Ridder’s comparisons coming into the NFL was Alex Smith and I think it came from the standpoint that he just did everything like it needed to be done. There’s not a lot of flash outside of a few scrambles out of the pocket. While Ridder has more than enough athleticism to make the most out of those scrambles, he’d rather sit in the pocket and allow his pass-catchers to beat you downfield.
Which leads me to my last point. Arthur Smith has outfitted this team with not one, not two, but three first-round talents that exist to make the extraordinary out of the ordinary. Most notably the newest addition in Bijan Robinson.
While we should be trying our hardest to make “I-985” a nationwide slogan for the trio of Ridder, London, and Pitts, it is worth noting the impact that Robinson should have on this offense immediately. Having this type of impact as a receiver from the running back position should be unfair.
And we haven’t even discussed Tyler Allgeier or Cordarrelle Patterson’s role in the offense.
Will This Work?
It should. This is very similar to what the Eagles did prior to their historic run last season. It is worth noting that Jalen Hurts had an entire year with Shane Steichen before that run to iron out what worked and what didn’t. Ridder has only had four games with Arthur Smith. So, Atlanta Falcons fans should be looking for this year to be similar to the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles. A team with a veteran defense that keeps them in games as the quarterback and play-caller get on the same page.
That being said, there will be some bumps and bruises along the way. Ridder and Smith will be looking to understand their own strengths and weaknesses as the season goes on. Understanding what route concepts Ridder likes best, and which ones he doesn’t. Finding that balance between RPO/play action and drop-back passes that keep defenses honest.
These are all aspects of the offense that are going to be addressed throughout the season. And at the end of the season, when we close the door on 2023 and look towards 2024, we should have a clear answer at the quarterback position. We will know whether the faith in Desmond Ridder paid off for the Falcons.