FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Arthur Smith had a lot to say on Monday.
During his first press conference since the Falcons bye week began, there was quite a bit Smith had to update and explain.
Desmond Ridder is the Falcons starting quarterback. That decision - of course - comes with a great many questions. Smith answered them all in step as they came on Monday.
So, to make things easy for you, here's a one-stop shop for you as you analyze the quarterback situation in Atlanta. We'll take a look at what Smith said on Monday, and dissect what it really means as Week 15 of the season gets underway with a new quarterback taking over the reins of the Falcons offense.
On what led to the decision to officially name Desmond Ridder the Falcons starting quarterback
What was said: "We are close but we need to get over that hump. We feel a growth of Desmond that we've seen. He's been one play away all season but we feel very comfortable with where he's at right now to be able to handle the game plan and operate at full capacity."
What it means: Smith and the coaching staff feel like this week is the right time to make the move at quarterback (for Ridder, his evaluation and the future of the quarterback position in Atlanta). I've written on a few occasions that I didn't want to see Ridder until the moment was right.
Well, that moment has arrived.
I didn't want to see Ridder in a downpour in Carolina, on five days prep, having never truly ran with the first team offense. I wanted to see Ridder - mainly - after a full week of prep as the Falcons starter. Not after running the scout team for a week. Not going in at halftime when the offense isn't operating well. But this. If I had to pick an ideal time to finally see Ridder, it's now, in Week 15.
Is it ideal that the Falcons will start Ridder for the first time against New Orleans in New Orleans? Probably not, but as Smith said: There's always a risk when you make a change like this. It's a change, though, that Smith felt confident in saying Ridder is ready for.
He also noted that the health and consistency of the Falcons offensive line played a factor in the decision, too.
"We're in a very different situation than we were at the beginning of the year," he said. "(Our offensive line) is playing consistently and we have to continue to do that. It also makes the transition easier, too, when your line is playing better."
In essence, Smith said this decision came because the Falcons circumstances changed, they are coming off a bye week and he felt like he "needed to push this offense."
"I have confidence in Desmond," Smith said. "There's a risk any time you make a move, but you have to be willing to take that if you want to break through and get out of this up-and-down inconsistency."
On Marcus Mariota's "anticipated" move to injured reserve
What was said: "(Mariota) has a chronic knee he wants to get evaluated, but had nothing to do with this decision. He's not here right now… We anticipate him going to IR."
What it means: Though a move to IR hasn't been officially announced, don't be surprised if it comes at some point this week. And do not miss the emphasis Smith put on this note: Mariota potentially going on IR had nothing to do with the decision to start Ridder... Nor was it an injury that hindered Mariota's play... Nor had it been an issue for him at all this season.
The decision to move Ridder into the starting quarterback role was made before any conversation about Mariota's knee was had.
The move at quarterback was one deemed to be a "performance-based decision" not one with a basis in necessity. Smith made that very clear during his 15-plus minute press conference.
Will Marcus Mariota return at any point this season?
What was said: "I can't answer that right now. Obviously if someone goes on IR I wouldn't anticipate them back, but until that decision has been made and finalized then we're just talking hypotheticals."
What it means: Mariota was not at the Falcons facility on Monday. Smith confirmed that much during his press conference.
However, what that means for Mariota moving forward is not concrete. Smith said he wasn't trying to be evasive, but a long-term decision on Mariota has not been made yet.
But it's true that if Mariota does go on injured reserve that he would miss the remainder of the 2022 regular season. The expectation - the way I see it - is that this is Ridder's ship to control until the final play of the season for the Falcons. At whatever point that final play eventually comes.
On potentially changing the play call because it's Desmond Ridder under center, not Marcus Mariota
What was said: "I think if we had to do this earlier in the season we would have."
What it means: This - to me - means that Ridder is up to speed on the playbook. Smith went on to say that if he had to restrict the play calling to cater to Ridder that it wouldn't be fair to Ridder's overall evaluation as well as the function of the team offensively.
Smith and Ridder spent a bit of time together during the bye week, with Smith saying Ridder was around the facility all week. There will - of course - be some things that Smith will have to do a little differently during the week's prep for Ridder. The main thing is making sure that Ridder has his week in order. Not only does Ridder's football workload change because he's the starter but so does his outside requirements including media availabilities and appearances whether they be on radio, TV or otherwise.
Those things will shift for Ridder, but the way Smith calls the offense with Ridder under center does not seem to be something that will change.
On the goals of Desmond Ridder this week
What was said: "We have to find ways to get back on a winning track. Really the challenge for Desmond is you've gotta go earn the respect. Being name the starter doesn't all of a sudden mean you're the new sheriff in town. He's a rookie and he has to prove that he can be successful and I believe he will."
What it means: Ridder has to win over the Falcons locker room.
It's no secret that the locker room publicly (and consistently) rallied behind Mariota, particularly the Falcons offensive line. Smith said a goal of Ridder's not just this week, but throughout the next four games, will be to earn the respect of his teammates.
It's not that he doesn't already have it, but he's never played in a real NFL game. He has to show those around him that he can handle it, and lead the team accordingly. He already has the confidence of the head coach, the locker room comes next.
About Desmond Ridder making his first NFL start in New Orleans against the Saints
What was said: "If I thought the moment was too big for him I wouldn't put him out there."
What it means: Playing the Saints in New Orleans is tough for a lot of quarterbacks, let alone a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. But this comment by Smith speaks volumes to where the Falcons feel Ridder is in his overall development.
Of course, this vote of confidence doesn't automatically mean Ridder will lead the Falcons to victory. It's his first start after all. So, taper expectations. This comment from Smith doesn't mean Ridder will be perfect or that he'll be exactly what the Falcons need to kick start the pass game. What it means is that Smith believes Ridder is at a good point in his development to be put in this position. That's it. No more. No less.
How the Falcons pass game needs to evolve
What was said: "We need more production with things we try to do. It's not putting all the blame on (Marcus). There are certain things that we want to see. Desmond has a chance to provide that spark."
What it means: In my opinion, this is the most straight forward answer Smith gave on Monday. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it: The Falcons pass game has to evolve like the run game did.
From top to bottom the Falcons' overhaul of the run game has been something the organization can be proud of. The pass game has been inconsistent at best and unreliable and without solid production at worst. In terms of said production, it was lacking for the Falcons so far in 2022.
By a yards per game average and attempts through the air in 2022, the Falcons are currently the second-to-last passing offense in the league. Only the Browns are below the Falcons in those categories.
Simply put, that's not good enough and there needs to be improvement.
Like Smith said, Ridder will have a chance to potentially be the one to help the Falcons offense evolve.