It’s been a long time coming for Desmond Ridder. After a tremendous showing in the preseason, the excitement was building toward his inevitable NFL debut. It took much longer than expected due to Marcus Mariota’s solid start to the season. That quickly changed to Arthur Smith wanting to compete in the dreadful NFC South. Even if it took a while, the time has finally come for Ridder to be put in the position to prove that he can be a potential franchise quarterback.
Before anything else, he must show his capabilities as a quarterback and leader, starting with one of the biggest challenges possible. As bad as the Saints have looked at times this season, the defense is still playing at a relatively high level, led by a strong base of productive albeit aging players. For Ridder to make his debut in one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL raises the stakes in an otherwise matchup to stay relevant in the NFC South. There are plenty of aspects people want to see from Ridder’s game. It all starts with how he takes command of the offense.
Leading by example, communicating with purpose
Similar to Mariota, Ridder has been commended for his leadership qualities. Players gravitate to him his insistence on making sure everything is on point and apparent willingness to try to elevate those around him. These are qualities a quarterback must possess if they want to become a credible NFL starter. Ridder recently spoke about how it’s not simply about communicating but knowing when and how to be vocal with his teammates. It was an mature moment for the rookie quarterback, who seems wise beyond his years.
How he uses these positive traits in the biggest rivalry game imaginable for the Falcons will be an intriguing first test. Dennis Allen never hesitates to blitz, especially when facing an inexperienced quarterback. They use various fronts to fluster opposing quarterbacks, from positioning inside linebackers as edge rushers and sending them on twists to sending well-timed delayed blitzes with three-man fronts. There aren’t many defenses more creative than them.
As Smith said this week, it’s important to see how he handles the pressure and stress of situational football, along with what takes place at the line of scrimmage. The Saints’ defense presents a stern test for him to showcase how he manages these types of particular challenges.
One of the most impressive aspects of Ridder’s preseason performances was how decisive he was in the pocket and making plays out of structure. No matter what was thrown at him, the former Bearcat quarterback always looked composed and seemed in command of what is transpiring around him. He threw with anticipation in connecting with an array of receivers. His pocket awareness was on point in evading pressure to make accurate passes into the intermediate areas of the field.
The Falcoholic’s finest William McFadden wrote an excellent piece on Ridder being very decisive with how he played across the board. It goes beyond completing passes and making correct reads. The way he threw the ball and led receivers to create yards after catch opportunities opened many eyes to thinking he could start on opening day. While it didn’t materialize, his three performances indicated he was ready to take the field sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the coaching staff didn’t view it that way. Nevertheless, the time is finally here.
Besides being decisive with his arms and legs, Ridder’s decisiveness comes from having a high football IQ. SB Nation’s quarterback guru Mark Schofield commended his ability to read coverages and process well. That is a significant trait for a rookie quarterback, particularly when defenses aren’t going to shy away from utilizing different coverage sets and pressure schemes. Between playing with accuracy, decision-making, and mental processing, Ridder must show he can do it all decisively on the road in a rowdy environment.
Connecting with Drake London on the field
If the Falcons’ passing game is going to take steps forward, London needs to be at the center of the game plan. It happens both London and Ridder have bonded coming from this past draft class. The rising star wide receiver has put in considerable extra work with Ridder over the past several months to build a strong rapport. Both players had to know they would be playing together at some point in 2022. It happens to be in one of the yearly biggest games for the Falcons.
There will be instances where Smith will use play action to give Ridder high-percentage looks or scheme open plays for London. That said, the Saints won’t shy away from playing aggressive man coverage, with Marshon Lattimore potentially returning from a long-term abdomen injury. Lattimore is one of the few cornerbacks that embraces all aspects of playing press coverage and enjoys playing physically against opposing top receivers. London will have to win his battles to get the passing game going.
That is where not only London will have to step up, but also Ridder having the trust to place the ball where London can showcase those contested catch skills that blew everyone away at USC. Accuracy will always be a top priority for quarterbacks, yet it’s essential for them to be on the same page with each pass catcher to manufacture drives and punish an overzealous defense. Ridder knows how to blow away his teammates with his knowledge of the playbook and game plan. He needs to use this knowledge to make the offense more balanced and produce explosive plays with the best active skill position player on the roster.