Desmond Ridder's NFL debut is now on record. The third-round pick made his first start on Sunday in New Orleans, when the Saints pulled out a 21-18 victory over the Falcons.
The NFC South continues to lose, so the Falcons are still technically in it, but we're not focused on that anymore. The division doesn't matter until the Falcons fix things and start winning these close games. They're getting better in some areas, while still struggling in the passing game.
That has to get fixed in the short- and long-term. And while the Falcons aren't playing well, there's reason for optimism with the young foundation. Let's talk about that, Ridder's performance and Cordarrelle Patterson's production in this Monday Bair Mail.
Chris Atlas from Marietta, Ga.
I felt vindicated last week after Ridder was named starter, but I was being facetious. Our expectations of him should be low right now. Ridder didn't play horribly, but he didn't play great either. His command of the huddle, poise, & willingness to make the right reads will endear him to his teammates in time. I felt like Coach Smith tried to get too cute with the play-calling & it hurt the team early.
Bair: I don't think play calling was at issue, here, Chris. Both Desmond Ridder and Arthur Smith said the young quarterback was too amped up in the early going, pushing for big shots instead of taking what was available to him.
Now to your larger point, which is a good one. We have to evaluate Ridder on a different scale. He is not the savior of this season. He isn't going to step right in and be perfect. This is a third-round pick thrust into action at New Orleans and then at Baltimore, a mini trial by fire, as my pal Tori put it. You have to account for all that in your evaluation. You have to account for the fact Kyle Pitts isn't here. You have to account for his inexperience and the fact that he's learning how to play the position at this level by doing.
You can't simply grade him off the box score. You have to look at the tape and his play and look for signs of progress or regression. As Smith put it in his Monday press conference, you don't want him making the same mistake twice. Ridder seems like a good self-evaluator. That will help this process as well.
I saw the game live and have watched most of the offensive plays again. He made rookie mistakes, a bunch of them in fact. But he ran the offense well and showed physical skill. He now has to make the right decisions after the snap and deliver the ball accurately and on time to the right guy. We have one game to look at, and that's a baseline. Let's see if he can improve from here.
Zackery Goodknight from Dallas, Tex.
Another close loss with another chance to win/tie the game that was lost due to a turnover. But let me say this, this team has a foundation. It was really obvious to me. This coaching staff has drafted some talented players. The defense needs some help and the passing game has to get going like you stated Bair. I know the season isn't over yet, but looking to the future, with young pieces like London, Allgeier, Grant, Hawkins, Pitts, etc., what's the biggest flaw of the team that they can address besides potentially QB if Ridder doesn't look to be the future? And how do you see them addressing it considering how much money they have to spend this off-season?
Bair: Lots of really good points in here, which is why I ran the entire question. I, too, think there's an expanding young foundation that should be encouraging to Falcons fans regarding the team's future. There are a lot of people who are virtual locks to be significant contributors.
One area where I think the Falcons should go big, in the draft or in free agency (or both): edge rusher and defensive line. You can never have enough good ones, and the Falcons need more. That might be a spot where you pay premium dollars for a top edge rusher and get a true nose tackle and draft another defensive lineman. The inside linebackers are in good shape. Adding edge guys and interior folks to Grady Jarrett and TaQuon Graham could help that defense in a hurry. As Casey Hayward is back, as faithful reader Scott Carasik points out, which will get the secondary a lift.
Isaac A from GA
Hi! I know you're getting QB questions a lot, so here's a cp question, we used him at TE WR RB and even FS, this year we only use him at running back. What's up?
Bair: That's a good question, Isaac, that sent me down a PFF rabbit hole that took some time to get out of. Ha. I look closely at his detailed snap counts, how often he's playing each position. He's lining up out wide more than you think, (and more than I thought), but he is playing less. Early on he was the team's feature back and had to occupy that role in a three-down capacity with Tyler Allgeier not ready and Damien Williams hurt.
Then he went on IR and, since his return, he's playing about a quarter of his snaps out wide or in the slot. He's not as active as a receiver as he was and seems to be splitting time more with Allgeier. I think having Allgeier in the backfield with Patterson at different spots is an effective way to go.
Regardless of snap counts, his receiving stats are way down, which is what you're noticing. He had a career-high 548 receiving yards in 2021, on 52 catches. He only has 12 catches for 65 yards this season. That's pretty stunning, but He's about to set a career high in rushing yards, with as many yards in 10 games that he had in 16 games last season. So, there's some give and take.
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We take a monochrome look at the game against the New Orleans Saints on December 18, 2022.