The Atlanta Falcons do not have a good offense right now.
That’s the situation the team is in; there’s no use sugar coating it. Atlanta has some really good players on that side of the ball, but they’re stuck in a busted blender of inconsistency that seems to swirl about without any rhyme or reason.
You can point fingers if you wish. No, quarterback Desmond Ridder hasn’t played well, and calls for his benching will be coming in louder and louder until he does. No, this very expensive, supposedly elite offensive line isn’t getting the job done right now in pass blocking and has surrendered 16 sacks this season through just four games.
No, Arthur Smith isn’t at his best as a play caller right now, and his seat will get hotter until his very expensive, talent-laden offense starts scoring more points. No, first-round talents like Kyle Pitts and Drake London aren’t getting the ball enough.
Yes, this is the worst-case scenario we all feared before the season started. While rookie Bijan Robinson deserves to be excluded from this conversation after his hot start, the totality of whatever the Falcons are doing on offense is just not working right now.
Through two games to start the season, the team scored 49 points. Through the last two games, the team has scored 13. However, most of those points in those first two games came in the second half. At no point this season have the Falcons looked competent on offense in the first half for any meaningful length of time. They start games lost and listless, and the vaunted run game hasn’t been able to really get going like it did last season despite Robinson’s excellence.
If the Falcons end up in a hole, they’re not always going to climb out of it with the way they’re built. That’s a problem.
You can blame as much of this on Ridder as you want, but he’s still very raw. His two back-to-back interceptions were disastrous for the Falcons on Sunday vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he showed more poise in the game’s second half after an abysmal first half.
His third-down statistics are hard to suss through: do they show the clutch gene still forming, or is he just good on one down of four?
That stat from the broadcast on Desmond Ridder is absolutely not nothing.— Will McFadden (@willmcfadden) October 1, 2023
Ridder on third down: 8/8 - 5 first downs - 1 TD
Ridder made some good throws against the Jaguars, but he’s struggled to find any sense of consistency since he took over as the Falcons’ starting quarterback last December. When he errs, it’s usually not pretty to watch.
While you can’t read too much into one moment in a difficult game, wide receiver Mack Hollins seemingly getting very frustrated with Ridder on the sideline is just not something that you can ignore (even if Hollins dismissed the thought that it had to do with the QB).
Mack Hollins wanted nothing to do with Desmond Ridder after missing him on a post pic.twitter.com/glKMiUTfi2— uSTADIUM App (@uSTADIUM) October 1, 2023
Even if the flashes are there, Ridder is not playing like a starting NFL quarterback right now. If you’re hoping that the Falcons will cut their losses with Ridder and trot out quarterback Taylor Heinicke, you might not be able to bank on that happening. It’s very understandable to want change, but the logistics of it don’t track how this regime handles business.
The team is technically still 2-2 in a winnable NFC South, and this coaching staff has spent an entire offseason investing in Ridder’s potential this season. If anything, Smith has proven very loyal to his players unless it really looks like all hope is lost for the postseason. The odds of the team benching Ridder after two bad games is low. They’re probably going to see this through.
However, Sunday’s game might be as stark a reminder as we’ve gotten this season that Ridder doesn’t give the team the best chance to win right now. Heinicke isn’t an elite talent, but his veteran presence might give this offense a higher floor right now to operate with.
However, in the unlikely event that Heinicke actually starts a game anytime soon, would it really elevate this team’s ceiling? With the Falcons actually fielding a good defense for once, starting Heinicke might help this offense hit a few throws it hasn’t. However, this offensive line is still unable to totally handle even a pretty good defensive line, and Smith’s coaching still has to find much more cohesion with what his team’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Although, this recent quote from Falcons defensive end Calais Campbell in a great profile from Go Long’s Tyler Dunne should give you pause before subscribing to the idea that Ridder’s job is in question at the moment.
In it, Campbell talks about his trepidation of signing in Atlanta with Ridder as the starter back in the spring, and how he used his poker acumen to read into how much this regime believes in the young quarterback.
“That was a big part of it for me — knowing that they believed in him and were putting their jobs on it,” Campbell told Dunne about Ridder. “I could see it in their eyes and, in my research, I was like, ‘OK, even if he’s just OK, we’re going to be good. If he messes around and becomes good, we’re going to be really tough to beat.’”
You don’t go into your third season as a head coach and endorse a player like Ridder to start unless you think he can do a good enough job to win games. If you’re Smith, Ridder’s lackluster play has to be a cold bucket of water to the face, and his struggles combined with this offensive line’s troublesome regression can’t make this offense easy right now to scheme around.
However, he was hired here to built the same type of elite, well-balanced offense he led with the Tennessee Titans, and results have been mixed on that goal in three seasons. Some of that is out of Smith’s control with salary cap woes and normal rebuilding problems, but some of it is very much his to own. This season was supposed to be the year where this offense came together for January football, and that really hasn’t happened.
Smith said post-game after the Jaguars loss that they were going to do whatever they had to do to get this offense going. Unless Ridder makes some major leaps and bounds in the next couple of weeks and this offensive line starts keeping the pocket clear, it’s a bit hard to have faith that it’s all going to come together as soon as anyone would hope.
You don’t want to have doom and gloom about this season, but this Falcons offense does not look good enough right now to get Atlanta to the postseason. The defense is vastly improved, but that side of the ball can’t do it alone. Maybe the Falcons do play much better on offense in the months to come, but our current sample isn’t that promising.
With a quarterback change still unlikely with how much this team has invested in its starter, it could be a long fall until that side of the ball figures itself out. Even if the team does decide to put Heinicke in there, that won’t fix all of the problems.
Benching Ridder for a more experienced quarterback might help some for the interim, but there will still be big answers for this franchise that in-season adjustments may not solve. That’s not what anyone looking for an easy fix wants to hear, but reality is rarely one switch away from being better.