For better or worse, the Atlanta Falcons appear content to start Desmond Ridder behind center. Despite fans and the media calling for a change at quarterback, one doesn’t appear to be coming in Atlanta.
Still, there is a scenario where a change behind center could become necessary for the Falcons this season.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ran through that scenario and situations where other teams could make a change at quarterback. Then, Barnwell ranked which of quarterbacks were most likely to be benched.
Ridder came in at No. 4 on Barnwell’s list.
“Ridder is averaging 4.6 yards per dropback, which ranks 31st, behind Zach Wilson and Justin Fields,” Barnwell wrote for an article on ESPN+. “Nobody expected the Falcons to morph into the Chiefs, but the hopes that Smith and Ridder would be able to marry the rushing attack with a more expansive passing game haven’t come through.”
Barnwell pointed to two major problems with the Falcons’ offense — the lack of play-action passes and sacks allowed.
As Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith had a run-first philosophy as he does with the Falcons. But Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill would then hit big plays down the field with play-action.
That’s not happening with the Falcons right now.
“Ridder’s 36.1 QBR on play-action ranks 26th in the league,” wrote Barnwell. “Watching his 28 pass attempts there, I see more screens and throws into the flat than I do shots downfield.”
Opposing defenses are sacking Ridder on 12% of his dropbacks, according to Barnwell. Obviously, that’s not a recipe for a sustainable offense.
Barnwell wrote that the Falcons are averaging 2.2 points per drive when Ridder doesn’t take a sack. On drives where opponents sack Ridder, that points per drive average drops to 0.5 points.
The analytics from Pro Football Focus support Barnwell’s claim that Desmond Ridder is not cutting it as Atlanta’s starting quarterback. The “turnover-worthy” analytic stat is particularly damning for Ridder.
Still, it’s key to keep in mind that despite these struggles Barnwell doesn’t consider a quarterback change on the horizon for the Falcons. He ranked Zach Wilson, Sam Howell and Baker Mayfield as all more likely to be benched.
Wilson is an obvious choice for the top of the list. But like Ridder, Howell and Mayfield hold 2-1 records after Week 3.
“Given how little the Falcons are asking of their quarterback right now, benching Ridder for Heinicke doesn’t seem to have much of a point,” Barnwell wrote. “They’re running at the third-highest rate in football in neutral game scripts and throwing the seventh-shortest passes when the play doesn’t call for a screen.”
Still, fans can’t rule out a quarterback change in Atlanta. Smith is in his third season with the Falcons, and if a playoff spot is on the line in December, a switch behind center could occur.