Forget about the outside noise — a lot of which didn’t allow Desmond Ridder a chance from Day 1 to prove he could be a franchise quarterback. Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith gave the impression when he named Ridder the starter in March that it would be for the entire season.
Smith hasn’t wavered with Ridder early this season despite his poor play.
“Absolutely,” Smith said on October 2 in response to questions about Ridder as the team’s starter. “I wouldn’t be sitting here, pontificating about what went on in the game if we were making a change.”
A lot of Falcons fans probably didn’t want to hear that answer. But it was the right one. Smith explained why himself.
“There’s a fine line of being stubborn in situations and coming out of halftime and seeing what he’s got,” Smith said. “Otherwise, you will never know.”
When the Falcons named Ridder their starting quarterback, his development became the top priority for this season. Anything else — a playoff berth, Super Bowl run, etc. — became a bit of an afterthought.
Obviously, the goal for every team is to win a championship. But Atlanta’s real goal entering this year was to determine if Ridder is a quarterback who could eventually win a title.
Right now, the verdict doesn’t look favorable for the 24-year-old quarterback. He hasn’t improved upon the four starts from his rookie season. If anything, he’s been worse.
Ridder has thrown 3 interceptions versus only 3 touchdowns. He’s also averaged 6.3 yards per attempt with a 62.2% completion percentage.
His play the past two weeks have resulted in 13 total points for the offense.
Four games, though, isn’t enough to judge a quarterback. In a perfect world, Smith wants to have an entire season of film on Ridder to decide whether he remains the team’s starter in 2024.
But to earn that chance, Ridder may have to start playing a lot better, very soon. Maybe as soon as Week 5.
The Falcons defense has been about as good as Atlanta fans hoped it could be when they read about the additions of safety Jessie Bates, linebacker Kaden Elliss and defensive end Calais Campbell during the offseason. And in the weak NFC South, the defense could lead the Falcons to a division title, and thus, a home playoff game.
But Smith has to get something out of his offense to make that a reality.
He wants it to come from Ridder. A switch to Taylor Heinicke could result in more points and wins now, but it won’t win a Super Bowl. And it means the Falcons are back at square one behind center next offseason.
One more bad performance from Ridder, though, and Smith may not have a choice, especially if he begins to worry about his own job security.
That makes Week 5 against the Houston Texans the most important matchup of Ridder’s life.
On the opposite sidelines is a young quarterback in C.J. Stroud who very much looks like the solution for his organization. If Stroud badly outplays Ridder at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, things could get rough in front of the home crowd.
Things won’t exactly be easy with the Texans defense either. Behind new head coach DeMeco Ryans, the Texans are ninth in passing yards allowed. They are also ranked in the top half of the NFL in net passing yards allowed per attempt.
The good news is Houston only has 7 sacks in four games. Pass protection has been a problem for Ridder and the Falcons this season.
However, the Texans had 3 sacks last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite the potential for an angry home crowd, Ridder will likely welcome a return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He’s 4-0 at home in his career versus 0-4 on the road.
How Ridder performs in his fifth home start could go a long way in determining the trajectory of his career with the Falcons.