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This week’s big question: What will the offense look like with Desmond Ridder?

The third-round pick is about to make his first NFL start. What will that mean for Atlanta’s offense?

Atlanta Falcons v New York Jets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Desmond Ridder days are about to begin, and not a single one of us knows how this will end. At this point, anything seems possible, which is undoubtedly part of the intrigue that accompanies young quarterbacks.

Atlanta makes this move in part because Marcus Mariota has had a large hand in the Falcons’ offense underperforming as of late. The Falcons lost four of their five games before the bye week, and they failed to score more than 17 points in each of those defeats. That slowdown in offensive production came at a time when the defense allowed an average of 21 points in those games, which should have been enough to win.

When the decision was officially announced on Monday, Arthur Smith explained that he also felt Ridder had progressed enough to earn this opportunity.

“Also, the growth from Desmond that we’ve seen,” Smith said when asked about the rationale behind the change. “He’s been wanting to play all season, but we feel very comfortable with where he’s at right now to be able to handle the game plan and operate in a full capacity. Again, we would’ve adapted if he had to play earlier in the season, but we feel really good with where he’s at right now.”

Smith and his coaching staff have watched Ridder all season long, but the fans only got a tantalizing taste of what he brings to the table in the preseason. There’s nothing else to go on for what a Falcons offense might look like with Ridder at the helm. That’s of course a good thing for Atlanta, as it prepares for a four-game stretch that will decide the season, but it’s not so great for all of us.

So I relied on the only NFL tape we’ve got on Ridder to try to suss out how the Falcons could adapt in slight ways to the new man behind center.

I’ll start by saying that after my rewatch, I can’t wait to see Ridder back out there for this team. The finer details of Ridder’s performance in the preseason had faded from my memory, but he was very sharp at times in those exhibition games. With a starting unit around him, I think he can really look the part.

Ridder’s accuracy was called into question during the pre-draft process, but I’ve always felt it was a bigger issue early in games. Once he settled in, he was largely precise with the ball. That’s something I looked for closely in the preseason, but Ridder was throwing darts early and often in his first two appearances.

The rookie looked very decisive with the football, which can really help a young player’s accuracy. These weren’t all screens and short passes, though. Ridder has a nice feel for working tight spaces over the middle of the field and can throw with touch or put the ball on a rope.

Perhaps my favorite throw on the rewatch came in the third quarter against Jacksonville. Backed up on his own 2-yard line to start the drive, Ridder sells the play-action fake and comfortably delivers a dime to Frank Darby down the left sideline. It doesn’t matter who’s in coverage on the throw.

Based on the preseason tape, the throw Ridder looked least comfortable with was the speed out. He had one ball intercepted on that type of throw, and his passes to the sideline on out-cutting routes were generally off the mark. That is easily fixed with repetition, which he’s been getting at least some amount of in practice.

What Ridder showed with his arm is something the Falcons desperately need right now, and I’d expect them to incorporate a bit more of a passing flow into their game plan moving forward. The rookie looks like he can hit the majority of the throws you’d need in a game and at a fairly consistent clip. His completion percentage from the preseason was only 60.7, which isn’t spectacular but also doesn’t account for a high number of dropped passes.

From a mobility standpoint, I don’t know if Ridder has the straightaway speed that Mariota did. He does, however, show more poise and feel for the pocket than you’d expect for a rookie. Perhaps his lengthy career at Cincinnati has best prepared him in this area. When he needs to, Ridder can absolutely tuck it and run it. And I think it’s very likely his legs will continue to help Atlanta stay in manageable situations on early downs.

There’s also a rhythm to the way Ridder plays that is most on display when he’s selling a fake before a short pass or screen. He’s almost going through dancing steps to keep his timing. I’ve not seen something like that from a young player before, and I’m not even sure if it’s noteworthy. But it impressed me, and I think it does indicate something even if I can’t quite put my finger on it yet.

Ultimately, though, I think these next four games will come down to Ridder’s decision-making. He will make mistakes – all rookies do. He will make mistakes in a very hostile environment on Sunday, and the fans will let him hear about it. But how does he bounce back and learn from that while the game is actually still happening?

This is another area where I think his lengthy college career will benefit him, but I also expect the offense to manage him somewhat. Smith won’t put too much on his plate to begin with. Instead, I think they will give him a few different options depending on what he sees so that he can be as decisive post-snap as he was in the preseason.

If that’s how it does play out, his decision-making is crucial. As The Athletic’s Nate Tice highlighted in his own film review, though, we should feel confident in that aspect of Ridder’s game as well.

While the bye week certainly gave the Falcons some added time to mix in some of Ridder’s preferred flavors, it wasn’t enough to change the entire recipe. This offense isn’t going to be drastically different. I do, however, think they will dial up a few more high-percentage throws than we saw with Mariota.

That’s partially because it protects Ridder, but also because he’s better at hitting those throws than Mariota was. Ridder should be able to get the ball out quickly and give the receiver an opportunity to pick up yards after the catch with his ball placement. Mariota couldn’t do that consistently enough, so the Falcons converted those plays to runs and only really threw deep to stress defenses.

With Ridder back there, I think the balance shifts a bit more to the middle and we start to see a quick passing game that just hasn’t been there recently.