The Atlanta Falcons find themselves in an unusual situation this season. We had a "mutual" separation from our long-time, Pro Bowl/All-Pro/NFL MVP QB after almost 15 years, and moved into unfamiliar territory. Where that left us at the beginning of the season is with an intriguing mix of an established veteran QB who is primed for a bounce back in his career, and a third round pick who has a lot of the traits that the head coach hand picked for the future of his offense. Now that we are three games into the season, we are seeing the culmination of the prep work by the coaching staff and front office, mixed with the development of young players or veterans ready to prove something. It is honestly fun to watch. Through all of the fun and entertainment an intriguing conversation has now sprung up. I have been open about being on one end of the conversation, and I fully understand the other end. What I want to bring up is the reasons I have for making the debate I am. This may be long winded, but I believe it is worth considering to everyone on the opposite side.
First, I will do a quick breakdown of the debate. Right now there are two main camps in the controversy at QB. The first camp is the camp siding with the coaches of the team, which gives this side instant credibility. The coaches know more about this debate than all of us put together. What this camp and the coaching staff are saying directly or indirectly, is that Marcus Mariota while flawed is the best option the Atlanta Falcons currently have to stay competitive every single week. We will call this the pro-Mariota group. With limited options Mariota is the best chance we have to win a Super Bowl. The other side, which I am on, says not so fast. I want to be clear, I support this coaching staff 100%. I think they are more or less above average as a group and doing a phenomenal job with what they have been given thus far. The issue is that Mariota's flaws, while not numerous, are severe enough that they put a cap on any real hopes for success this year. This side is a proponent of putting Ridder in the game, at least in a limited capacity early on, in the hopes that we can find out if there is an alternative for Mariota already on the team. We will call this the pro-Ridder group.
Now that is settled, lets look at the why each side is saying what they are saying, starting with the pro-Mariota group. The pro-Mariota group is pointing to how Mariota is playing decent football. The nuance of the term "decent" is debatable depending on what stats you are inclined to believe or what your eyes and gut tell you, but what everyone seems to agree on is that Mariota is playing like he deserved a redemption season. He is exciting to watch, and still has the athleticism to get it done on the professional stage. While there are judgment issues, and mental errors leading to costly mistakes, ultimately he is our best option to win now. Plus, this is only game three. With an optimistic mindset, you could rightfully argue that he will do nothing but get better from here. Through the first three games he is slightly above his career average for his personal QBR, has thrown 3 TD's and 3 INT's. He has ran an additional 2 TD's in, and is throwing with the second highest completion percentage of his career. By all metrics, he is playing at the same level he had when at his peak while at Tennessee. So, with a little optimism and a little statistical basis a person could rightfully argue that Mariota is giving us our monies worth as a redemption QB.
The pro-Ridder group sees things a little better, and it is a little more vague when trying to explain. To start out with the pro-Ridder group has fewer stats to lean back on. He has played a lot of college ball, and only been in preseason and offseason camps. As far as professional football experience goes, he is a huge question mark. What we do know is that Ridder has by all accounts had a solid grasp on the playbook before preseason game started. He mentally handled the playbook very well. Then on top of that, during the preseason he took second and third string players and made them look pretty good. Which from personal experience, usually says that they are actually doing pretty well themselves. Ridder and Bernhardt should really give each other a pat on the back for making each other look pretty good in the preseason. Now in college Ridder was outstanding. Over four years he had a completion percentage of 62.1%, with 87 TD's and only 28 INT's. He built a reputation for being a smart and capable leader of a team who runs a pro style offense, and coming through in the clutch fairly often. He was predicted to be a late first to late second round draft pick, and was in the same pile as Sam Howell and Matt Corral. Guys that weren't perfect but showed a ton of potential. The pro-Ridder group thinks that despite his rough edges coming out of college he can give you at least what Mariota gives you, in that he will keep the team competitive but probably make some rookie mistakes, maybe sometimes in bad situations. The upside is that unlike the optimism it takes to envision Mariota getting better as the season goes on, it is almost guaranteed to happen with Ridder. So, putting Ridder in now is a move toward the future, and one that will pay dividends near the end of the season, when the drums will be pounding much louder for the rookie to play.
So with a lack of stats or anything concrete why would anyone want Ridder to be put in the game, while Mariota is still playing decent football? The answer is in Schrodinger's Cat. Here is a link of the Wikipedia page explaining the famous Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment. Its complicated, but in short it says that if you poisoned a cat in a sealed box, then you cannot know if the cat is alive or dead until you open the box to look. Therefore, until a person physically sees the cat, it is BOTH. It is alive and dead until proven otherwise. Common sense really. Until you know, you don't know. Without concrete information, you are stuck guessing at best, and a sensible person has to allow themselves to believe that the "cat" is in two completely different states simultaneously until they get that proof.
How these two issues connect is this. Schrodinger's Cat is really a QB, thus the name of the article. At this point we have two possible QB's. One is a known and the other is an unknown. You cannot know which is the better QB, simply because one is a total mystery. So anybody with any real unbiased opinion, would say that Ridder is both better and worse than Mariota until he shows it on the field. The only way to find out is to "open the box" and find out. You gotta give Ridder the shot. Now then the follow up argument is that Mariota is a known commodity, so why risk it? Well the answer is simple. If you "open the box" and Ridder is good, maybe even better than Mariota, then you solve a lot of problems immediately. The issues Mariota has are all solved, or at least partially. Plus, you are still competitive, and you have closed the door on the future debate in the 2023 offseason where you will have people pounding the table for Atlanta to trade up and get a QB in the draft or spend big on a guy in free agency. If it flops, then the pounding on the table stops. People see with their eyes that Ridder is bad, and Mariota is without a doubt the best option. Plus, the coaches know that they need to figure this out quick at the end of the season, so it is therefore not just for the fans to shut up. It is in the best interest of the team and coaching staff to learn this quickly. Lastly, and most importantly to me, is that the coaching staff put themselves into this position knowingly.
This last point deserves its own paragraph. We all know that numerous teams have a history of taking 3rd round QB's with established, yet fringe QB's in place. Most famously was Russell Wilson, who was thrust into a QB battle upon entering the Seattles' facility in his rookie season, but he beat out his competition before the first game. Also a more familiar name was put here as well. The Atlanta Falcons Matt Shaub was in this situation. He was drafted to back up Vick, and was ultimately traded to Houston, a fateful 3 months before the infamous dog fighting scandal. Both Wilson and Schaub would go on to have some sort of success in the NFL. Interestingly enough, our very own OC Dave Ragone falls into this category as well. He was drafted in the 3rd round by the Texans but cut three years later. What the point is, is that teams have routinely taken on this burden before, and know what they are getting into. With Wilson he was battling Flynn after the team gave Flynn a big contract. The shock of the team making Flynn a backup was wild, but ultimately the right choice. With Schaub they chose to sit him, and immediately upon trading him the team regretted not giving him a shot or simply keeping him. When teams bring on a rookie QB from the draft there will ALWAYS be pressure to start that QB. Every single mistake that the entrenched QB makes will be compounded because of the potential behind them. The Falcons had to have seen this pressure coming for Mariota, and made the decision to start him or sit him already. The divisive fine line, is when do you make the decision to go back on the pre-determined position? The answer is when you feel comfortable seeing "the cat". If you, as a coaching staff and front office, simply cannot take the idea that you would have to walk back the decision to draft Ridder or sign Mariota, then you simply leave Schordingers QB as both good and bad. You don't have to walk back anything. You can simply deny that there is even a cat to look at. The truth is though, that there is very much a "cat" in the "box". To me, we need to see if that cat is dead or not sooner rather than later. We already know what this QB is. We NEED to know what the other QB is as well. At least give Ridder the shot to show he is worth holding on to moving forward. We can put him in all the preseason games, and offseason camps we want. Putting our version of Schrodingers QB in the game to "open the box" per say, is the only way to find out if we need a new box, or whether we have all the QB's we need.