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Nerdy Birds: Desmond Ridder, Falcons offense find a rhythm

The second-year signal caller threw for a career-high 329 yards and one touchdown while also engineering a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of Atlanta’s 21-19 win over Houston.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Desmond Ridder and the rest of the Atlanta Falcons entered Week 5 just like any other week: With a growth mindset and focused on improving each day. That workman-like attitude and desire to improve played a crucial role in how Ridder and the team would respond after dropping consecutive games.

"The likable thing about Ridder has always been his toughness. High moxie guy," wrote the Ringer's Ben Solak.

Ridder had his breakout game in Week 5. The second-year signal caller threw for a career-high 329 yards and one touchdown while also engineering a game-winning drive in the final two minutes of Atlanta's 21-19 win over Houston. Ridder completed 75.7% of his passes with a 4.3 completion percentage over expectation, his best mark of the year.

Passing Success Rate

Table inside Article
Player Week Success Rate
Brock Purdy 4 86.4%
Tua Tagovailoa 3 76.9%
Josh Allen 4 69.0%
Brock Purdy 5 68.0%
Desmond Ridder 5 63.2%

According to Next Gen Stats, Ridder posted a 63.2% success rate on Sunday. That was the second-best mark of the week and the fifth-best single-game performance by a quarterback this season. He turned in the best game of his career by success rate and expected points added per drop back (.20) while posting the second-most pass attempts in a single game in his young career.


Though Ridder ascribed much of his success to taking what the defense gave him, he showed an aggressiveness and ability that made him so successful during his college career.

"In the ninth start of his career, it looks like the switch may have finally turned on for Ridder," said the Athletics' Ted Nguyen. "He made some legit big-boy throws downfield into tight windows against the Houston Texans. These weren't just schemed-up, wide-open throws and he had a couple of perfect passes dropped. Ridder was fantastic."

On intermediate and deep throws of 10 or more air yards, Ridder was 9-for-14 (64.3%) for 187 yards with a 107.7 passer rating. He had a CPOE of 8.2% and averaged 15.7 air yards per attempt on those throws. Ridder also had a success rate of 64.3% and his 0.65 EPA per dropback, ranking sixth among quarterbacks with at least 10 such attempts.

(Fun fact, Drake London's 1.86 EPA per dropback led all passers in Week 5).


Ridder's ability and willingness to push the ball down the field opened up the passing attack on a day when the Texans were committed to stopping the run. Atlanta saw light boxes on just 8.3% of carries in Week 5, which is the lowest single-game percentage seen by a team that has logged at least 16 carries this season. Atlanta faced a blocking disadvantage, based on the number of defenders in the box, on 52.8% of carries.

Houston dared Atlanta to throw. Ridder and the Falcons responded.

"Quite easily Ridder's best game as a pro to date," wrote CBS' Chris Trapasso. "He threw with a new-found confidence and more velocity than I've seen from him."

Much had been made of the Falcons struggles to find a rhythm on offense through the first four weeks, and rightly so. That changed on Sunday. One of the keys to that change was Atlanta's ability to get passing plays off in rhythm, or within the timing of the play as it is designed, excluding quick game. Next Gen Stats defines 'in rhythm' throws as throws made between 2.5 and four seconds after the snap.

On Sunday, Ridder led the NFL with a 78.6% success rate on in-rhythm throws. He was 12-for-14 (85.7%) for 201 yards, and had a 118.8 passer rating with a 21.2 CPOE. He averaged 14.4 yards per attempt, 0.48 EPA per dropback, while being pressured on just 28.6% of those attempts, the sixth lowest among quarterbacks with at least 10 in-rhythm attempts.

That marked a significant improvement over the previous four games, which saw Ridder complete 30-of-52 (57.7%) passes with one touchdown, two interceptions and a 68.8 passer rating. He also posted a minus-5.6 CPOE and a 39% success rate.


Finding a rhythm wasn't only about Ridder, though. The offense stayed on schedule which allowed the team to run the second-most offensive plays of the season (74) and win the time of possession. Over the first four weeks, Atlanta had a success rate of 66.4% on early downs, which ranked 21st in the league. Last week, that number jumped to 74.3% (13th).

By staying ahead of the chains the Falcons improved third-down conversions from 35.3% in Weeks 1-4 to 50% in Week 5. Atlanta boosted its overall success rate from 39.1% to 49.4% while improving down set conversion rate, the rate at which a team converts one set of downs into another via first down or touchdown, from 66.4 to 74.3.

Atlanta also got its star playmakers involved with 22 of 28 total targets going to Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Bijan Robinson.

Pitts led the way with seven catches on 11 targets and was targeted on 45.8% of his routes, logging a team-high 3.6 yards per route run. London caught six of nine targets for 78 yards, a 25% target share and 2.2 yards per route. Despite only having two targets, Robinson made the most of his work in the pass game, producing a 131.3 passer rating when targeted and +10.8 percent CPOE and 1.03 EPA per target.

In totality, Sunday marked the Falcons second-highest offensive output in terms of yards since Arthur Smith became the Falcons head coach. It was the 10th-best output of his career as a play caller. All this despite rushing for just 96 yards.

Of the top 10 performances by a Smith-led offense, Sunday is the only one with fewer than 100 rushing yards, and one of just three in his top 20.

Ridder said it best on Sunday night when he categorized Atlanta's Week 5 win as a "true team win". It took all three phases playing well together to get the win, and Sunday was the first time this season that it felt like the offense and defense were playing complementary football. Atlanta will look to build on its success in Week 5 as the team continues to develop in the coming weeks.

Winning the Time of Possession Battle

Offenses extending drives, defenses getting off the field on critical downs and teams taking care of the football usually spells success for winning the time of possession battle. We all know, too, that winning the time of possession battle is usually a recipe for winning football games in the NFL.

Entering Week 6, teams are 22-4 when winning the time of possession margin by at least 10 minutes. In those four games where teams lost despite significantly leading the time of possession battle, teams struggled with turnovers:

  • Carolina had nearly 17 more minutes of time of possession than Minnesota in Week 4 but lost the lead on a fumble returned 51 yards for a touchdown in the second half.
  • The Giants possessed the ball for 12 minutes more than Seattle on Monday Night Football in Week 4, but the Seahawks had a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown.
  • Last week, the Giants had nearly 12 more minutes with the football than Miami but had three separate drives of more than 4:30 that ended without points.
  • Cleveland had 10:56 more time of possession than Pittsburgh in Week 2. However, the Steelers defense returned two takeaways for scores.

In two of the three wins this season, the Falcons led the time of possession battle by a wide margin: 12:30 vs. Green Bay and 11:04 vs. Houston. In Week 1, however, Atlanta held the ball over nine minutes less than Carolina and still came away with the win. How? The Falcons defense created three takeaways resulting in short fields for the offense and 17 points in total.

Last week, despite possessing the ball significantly longer than Houston, the Falcons had two costly fumbles in the third quarter, which kept the game close. Per TruMedia, the Falcons had a -11.25 EPA on turnovers last week, yet still put up 21 points and came away with the win. (For perspective: 19 teams have had a lower turnover net EPA than -11.25 in a game this season, and those teams are 1-18.)

Detail view of a red helmet during practice at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. on Thursday, October 12, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

In order to win the time of possession battle without having an advantage in turnover margin, defenses need to get off the field on critical downs. Last Sunday, Atlanta's defense limited Houston to its lowest third-down conversion rate of the season and forced the Texans to kick field goals on two of their three trips to the red area.

Atlanta's defense has consistently gotten off the field on critical downs this year. The Falcons rank third in defensive conversion down rate (percent of third and fourth downs converted by opponents) at 31.9%, which also marks the organization's best percent through five weeks since 2005 (31.7). Only Cleveland (25%) and New Orleans (31.6%) have gotten off the field at a higher rate on critical downs in 2023. Additionally, the Falcons rank fourth in the NFL in percentage of opponents drives that result in three-and-outs at 25.5%.

Washington has led the time of possession battle in three games this season, with wins over Denver and Arizona, as well as an overtime loss against the reigning NFC Champion Eagles. If Atlanta is able to extend drives and limit turnovers offensively, while continuing to get off the field on critical downs on the other side of the ball, that should equate to success against the Commanders on Sunday.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Washington Commanders, presented by Fast Twitch.

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