Is Time Running Out In Atlanta For Desmond Ridder?

By Jack Brentnall

The NFL’s London series began with a humiliating loss for the Atlanta Falcons at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Atlanta fell to a listless 23-7 defeat, marking their second straight loss this season.

Despite some valiant effort on defense and a potent running game at their disposal, it became very clear that Atlanta just did not have what they needed to compete on the day. The big culprit was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lacklustre passing game.

The headline from this game will be the back-to-back interceptions thrown by Desmond Ridder in the second quarter. Those turnovers certainly shaped the game, but the problems ran a lot deeper.

The Falcons averaged just 4.6 yards per pass. Ridder didn’t have a single completion of more than 15 yards, despite Atlanta trailing by double digits for much of the game. Drake London and Kyle Pitts combined for just five catches and less than 50 yards. If one thing was made clear from this game it is that something is fundamentally wrong with this offense.

A Look At The Numbers

It’s important to stress that this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to one bad result. The level of ineptitude we witnessed in Week 4 felt like a new low, but the problems that were on display at Wembley have been there for all to see in the Falcons’ three previous games.

A quick look at the numbers will tell you as much. Ridder’s eight explosive pass plays rank dead last amongst starting quarterbacks through Week 4. You can maybe get away with that sort of quarterback play if you’re careful and considered with the football. That can’t be said for Ridder. Through four weeks he leads the NFL with a 6.6% turnover-worthy play rate. 

For context there is only one other player (Mac Jones) whose turnover-worthy play rate is above 4.5%. If you look back over recent seasons, there have only been two quarterbacks to log a worse turnover-worthy play rate in a season – Ryan Tannehill in 2018 and Mike Glennon in 2021.

In addition to the poor decision making, Ridder is also taking far too many sacks. His 28.6% pressure-to-sack rate is the third worst amongst starting quarterbacks.

All of this has contributed to some of the bleakest team numbers that you could imagine. Through four weeks, the Falcons have logged an EPA per dropback of -0.224. That ranks 32nd in the NFL. If they continue at their current clip, they are on track to be one of the worst passing offenses of the last decade.

Since 2012, only two teams have posted a worse EPA per dropback figure. That was the 2012 Cardinals and the 2018 Cardinals. One of those was Josh Rosen’s rookie season where the team had the worst record in football. The other was a year where the Cardinals split quarterbacking duties between Brian Hoyer, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton. For a team that held hopes of a divisional title before the season, that certainly isn’t the company you want to keep.

So, What's Next?

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It became pretty apparent throughout that loss to the Jaguars that the present state of affairs cannot continue. This is a team with a good defense and an excellent running game that could miss out on their chance at a divisional title if they don’t do something to fix their passing game.

Arthur Smith has acknowledged as much. In his post-game press conference he said “Obviously we’ve got to do a better job. It starts with me jump starting the offense early…The reality is we put ourselves in a hole and we can’t turn the ball over, so that’s something we’ve all got to look at.”

“It’s always going to start with me and we’ve got to go back, objectively look, and whatever we have to do to get this thing jump started, that’s what we’re going to do.”

That line at the end is telling. Whilst it sounds like Ridder’s starting job is safe for at least Week 5, this certainly felt like Smith was putting his quarterback on notice. If we don’t see any more signs of life against the Texans next weekend, don’t be surprised if Taylor Heinicke makes an appearance.

And who knows, with the trade deadline looming later this month, perhaps Arthur Smith will give the Tennessee Titans a call and see if a reunion with Ryan Tannehill could be on the cards!

Feature Image Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya