FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- An offseason of hope and promise culminates in one of the most anticipated season-opening games in recent memory for not only the Falcons but the city of Atlanta at large. Maybe the most captivating aspect of a Falcons offense that oozes with preseason intrigue is the man under center. Second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder.
"Ridder is a cult hero for NFL film nerds because he's entertaining to watch," writes The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz in his QB Rankings. "He's not afraid of a pass rush, he has a decent arm that he doesn't shy away from using, and he can work through a progression if his first option isn't open. Ridder also has the requisite athleticism to play in a modern offense that asks its quarterbacks to operate on the move more often."
Ruiz's comments read like so many scouting reports from the spring of 2022, when Ridder was in the midst of the draft process. He's been touted as a dual-threat player with the physical tools and mental makeup of a successful NFL starter. While he may have waited until the third round to hear his name called and subsequently spent much of 2022 serving as Atlanta's backup, the player who helped Cincinnati to a 44-6 record and first-ever College Football Playoff appearance made sure he was ready when his opportunity came.
Ridder took over the starting role in Week 15 of the 2022 season, and while that four-game stretch may seem like a small sample size, looking at the stats behind those performances begins to show the potential that have his coaches, teammates and - most importantly - Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot excited about what is to come.
In four games, Ridder completed 73-of-115 passes (63.5 percent) for 708 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He posted a modest 86.4 quarterback rating, but his completions and passing yards were both franchise bests for a player's first four starts. He also joined Dak Prescott and Gardner Minshew as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to attempt at least 100 passes without throwing an interception in their first four starts.
Ridder impressed the Falcons coaching staff with his ability to operate the offense efficiently over the course of his four-game audition. With the rookie signal caller under center, the Falcons jumped from 15th in down-set conversion rate (72.0 percent) to eighth (73.4 percent). This statistic measures how frequently a team converts one set of downs into a touchdown or another set of downs via a first down. It's a good measuring stick for how efficiently an offense is moving the ball and whether it is converting on critical downs.
Another vital part of Ridder's game at the end of last season was his ability to protect the football. According to Pro Football Focus, he registered just two turnover-worthy plays last season (1.4 percent), and over the final four weeks of the season, only Mac Jones had a lower percentage of turnover-worthy plays.
Smith has lauded Ridder for his poise. Perhaps the best look fans got at that poise during his four games last season was when he was under pressure. Ridder posted a 76.7 Pro Football Focus passing grade when pressured, completing 18-of-28 passes (64.3 percent) for 213 yards. Ridder's passing grade when pressured was the third highest in the NFL over the final four weeks.
He registered an adjusted completion percentage of 79.2 percent and just 18.6 percent of pressures were converted into sacks, which ranked among the lowest in the NFL over that span.
Being efficient and staying calm under pressure are important tools for a quarterback to have in his quiver, but for Ridder perhaps the biggest point of emphasis in 2023 will be his ability to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers he is surrounded by. He proved to have quite a knack for that in 2022 as fellow rookie Drake London was one of the biggest beneficiaries of Ridder's insertion in the lineup.
Over the final four games, London caught 25-of-36 targets for 333 yards, ranking seventh in the NFL in receptions, eighth in receiving yards and tied for fifth in receiving first downs over that span despite ranking 58th in routes run. He also led all rookies in those categories.
Ridder and London were the third-best QB/WR duo in terms of yards, trailing Dallas' Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb and the Los Angeles Chargers' Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen. Ridder had a +6.2 completion percentage over expectation while averaging 11.6 air yards per attempt and 0.38 expected points added per dropback when targeting London.
As a duo, they trailed only Tom Brady and Chris Godwin in dropback success rate – or the percentage of dropbacks resulting in positive EPA when the quarterback targets that receiver. Additionally, the Ridder-London pairing ranked sixth in total EPA (13.6) among duos with at least 25 pass attempts over the final four weeks of the 2022 regular season.
|Player||Team||Yards Per Route Run (Weeks 15-18)|
London saw significant jumps in several other advanced statistical categories over the final four weeks of the season. His 3.03 yards per route run ranked second in the NFL, jumping up from 24th at 1.72 over the first 14 weeks. London's average depth of target improved by nearly a full yard up to 11.8 from 11.0, and his PFF receiving grade jumped from 76.2 to 86.9. He also improved his reception percentage from 59.5, which ranked 38th in the NFL, to 71.4, ranking 12th.
Despite a relatively small sample size, Ridder showed the Falcons coaching staff that he is more than capable of running the offense efficiently, handling the moment and getting the ball to his playmakers in 2022. With a full offseason of starting quarterback preparation under his belt, the second-year man will look to pick up where he left off and continue to trend upward in 2023.
Perhaps Ridder said it best himself when addressing the local media on Wednesday: "I'm ready to roll. Ain't no doubt about it."
We're not breaking any news telling you the Falcons ran the ball a lot last season. Atlanta's 559 rushing attempts led the NFL in 2022 and were the most by a team since Baltimore ran it 596 times in 2019. Opposing defenses adjusted to Atlanta's high rushing rate, flooding the box with defenders, yet the Falcons had the third-highest successful play rate on rush attempts and graded out as the top run-blocking offense in 2022 with an 83.7 rating, per PFF.
Diving into those numbers a bit: Tyler Allgeier faced a loaded box on a league-leading 54.8 percent of carries last season and had at least eight defenders in the box on 40 percent of his carries. Despite facing a loaded box on more than half of his carries as a rookie, Allgeier averaged 4.9 yards per carry, including 3.9 yards after contact per carry – tied for the fourth-most in the NFL. Additionally, among running backs with at least 50 carries against an eight-man box last season, the Falcons fifth-round selection averaged 4.2 yards per carry on those attempts – tied with Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey for the most in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson faced a loaded box on 52.8 percent of his carries – second-most among running backs in 2022 – and yet he led the NFL in rushing success rate (52.1 percent) among backs with at least 100 carries. There were more defenders than blockers in the box for more than half of Patterson's carries, still he averaged 1.5 yards before contact per carry in 2022. Despite being in his 10th NFL season last year, Patterson showed he still had the burst to get up field in a hurry (and this offensive line showed they can create some serious space), which led to him ranking second in first downs over expected per Next Gen Stats.
Atlanta spent the eighth-overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft on another weapon for this offense: Bijan Robinson. However, one shouldn't forget about Allgeier and do-it-all Patterson, who was listed as "Joker" on the Falcons Week 1 depth chart this week. With Allgeier, Patterson and Robinson, Atlanta is poised to make a run at being one of the top rushing attacks in the league again in 2023.
Calais Campbell | Century Club
Campbell can become the 42nd player in NFL history to record 100 sacks with one sack on Sunday. The 16-year veteran would be one of six active players to reach the century mark and the first since Aaron Donald accomplished the feat last season. Sacks were made an official statistic in 1982. Dating back to 1960 there are (unofficially) 64 players with 100+ sacks, including the Falcons all-time leader and Pro Football Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey (130.0), who played his entire career before sacks were officially recognized.
Jake Matthews | Model of Consistency
Dating back to 2014, Falcons three-time captain and Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Matthews has started 144 consecutive games. If Matthews starts on Sunday, he will surpass recent Ring of Honor Inductee Todd McClure (144 games) for the second-longest streak of starts in franchise history. Only Matt Ryan (147) has started more consecutive games for Atlanta.
David Onyemata | Pressure Player
Pressure players: That's what general manager Terry Fontenot said the Falcons would look to add through the offseason. Onyemata fits that bill. In 2022, he posted an 8.2 percent pressure rate, matching his new running mate Grady Jarrett. The former New Orleans Saint also tallied five sacks, 37 stops and six stuffs. He's got more than just one year of production under his belt though, generating a 10.6 percent pressure rate over the last two seasons, the 8th-highest pressure rate among defensive tackles with at least 500 pass rush snaps.
Jessie Bates III | No Fly Zone
Matching the pass rush with coverage on the backend is crucial to defensive success in the modern NFL. Atlanta added several pressure players to its roster to go along with star safety Jessie Bates III. Since 2020, Bates has recorded a 23.0 percent ball hawk rate, the third highest in the NFL among players with at least 100 targets. According to Next Gen Stats, opposing offenses posted -27.4 EPA when targeting Bates over that time.
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for week one of the 2023 regular season, presented by Fast Twitch.