Arthur Smith knows he’s going to be asked about the quarterback position weekly from now until the end of the season. He’s not particularly keen about that, and is making that known to reporters lobbing those questions at him, but it would be hard to say the Falcons’ head coach is surprised by some fans calling for Desmond Ridder and reporters repeatedly asking when and if we might see him.
That’s a function of where the Falcons are. They’re 4-6 at the moment, coming off back-to-back ugly losses where Marcus Mariota has mixed a few very nice throws and trademark effective scrambles with some really poor decisions, and they have a rookie quarterback the front office raved about waiting for an opportunity. If Mariota was excellent and the Falcons were still atop the NFC South, those questions would be at the fringes of the fanbase. Because neither of those things have been true and Ridder is sitting there, here we are.
To Smith’s credit, he’s showing his exasperation but hardly hiding from the question. He made it clear on Monday that he doesn’t think the Falcons have a “quarterback situation,” that he doesn’t view Mariota as close to the biggest issue with the offense, and that if the team does decide to make the switch to Ridder, Smith will deliver the news and it will be evident in practice.
In Tori McElhaney’s writeup at AtlantaFalcons.com, she goes over what Smith told the media on Monday, including his assertion that there is not a situation where the Falcons feel they urgently need to change the quarterback position. Smith specifically called out the offensive line in his remarks, obliquely mentioning Drew Dalman’s snapping and the pass protection as major pieces of the team’s failures on offense the past couple of weeks.
“There are a couple plays where you can certainly put the blame on him. But there’s blame to go around operationally,” Smith said. “If there’s pressure right there, I don’t know what to tell the quarterback when he’s looking down to pick the ball up because it’s a low snap, he gets up and there’s a defender right in his face. That’s kind of hard to overcome there. It’s the little things that add up to it that we can do better, and we have at times. I wouldn’t pinpoint just on one player.”
While the receiving corps wasn’t an issue last week against Carolina, drops and route issues did crop up against the Chargers, furthering Smith’s point that this is a multi-layered issue. What makes the line trickier is that there are no options waiting in the wings right now—Elijah Wilkinson, Jalen Mayfield, and Matt Hennessy are on injured reserve at the moment, leaving the team’s depth on the interior shaky at best—and Smith seems to be indicating that the Falcons are going to try to coax improvement out of who they have on the field. That would presumably extend to Mariota, who has certainly had “a couple plays” where he has put the offense in a bad position, but is a player Smith has consistently talked up and clearly values.
While the Falcons are at 4-6 and have looked really shaky over the last month, Smith fairly points out that Atlanta’s not out of the playoff race. The Buccaneers essentially have a game-and-a-half lead on them—they’re 5-5 and have a tiebreaker over Atlanta at the moment—and sweeping changes may help Atlanta get a read on the future without making them more competitive. Unless he comes to believe Ridder is going to give them a better chance to win than Mariota, it sounds like the Falcons won’t make a change if or until they’re dead in the water.
“... You lose two games in five days and everybody wants to panic, but we’re right in the middle of it. We’re not where we want to be but the reality of it is that you’re right in the middle of a playoff race.”
Ultimately, Atlanta is still in year two of a major re-imagining of the roster, and they’re focused on being as competitive as they can be given that. We don’t have any real insight into how the coaching staff feels about Ridder, but we do know that Smith seems inclined to try to maximize the players he has on the team and in the lineup, as the Falcons have really tinkered very little with their starters beyond elevating Damiere Byrd to third receiver, cutting Anthony Rush, and rolling out Rashad Fenton last week. Whether that’s animated by an outsized faith in the abilities of this coaching staff and the upside of the player son the roster or by a lack of suitable alternatives is an open question, but for better or worse, it will be a surprise if we see a major lineup shakeup ahead of the game against the Bears.
We’ll have a roundtable tomorrow led by Kevin Knight all about the big question of when (or whether) we’ll see Ridder this year, with yours truly among those weighing in. Based on Smith’s answers on Monday, I think it’s safe to say that if and when we see the change made, it won’t catch us off guard.