The Atlanta Falcons began the 2022 campaign with little to no expectations outside of the building. Many projected the team to finish with one of the worst records in football, including USA Today’s projection of a No. 1 overall pick. Instead, Arthur Smith’s team established itself as one of the best rushing offenses in the league, remaining competitive in most contests. As we look forward to a pivotal offseason, I’ll be starting a series to review the Atlanta Falcons season by position, beginning with the quarterbacks.
Atlanta Falcons 2022 season in review: Quarterbacks
Coming into the first season in more than a decade without Matt Ryan under center, the offense was expected to look different. Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder are much more mobile than their predecessor, and Arthur Smtih accentuated that asset.
The Falcons’ offense impressed at times, but limitations from Mariota held the team back. Ridder performed well in his mini-audition, but there are many areas where he must improve. Below are their respective stat lines:
- Marcus Mariota: 5-8 record, 184/300 (61.3% passing), 2,219 passing yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTs, 85 rushes, 438 rushing yards, 4 TDs
- Desmond Ridder: 2-2 record, 73/115 (63.5% passing), 708 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 16 rushes, 64 rushing yards
Mariota’s play was incredibly inconsistent. He shouldered the blame in multiple losses with egregious decision-making but also played perfectly in a victory over the 49ers, in which he earned NFC Player of the Week honors. However, it was abundantly clear that the veteran was holding the team back. In reality, Ridder wasn’t much better, but the mistakes were coming from a rookie third-rounder, not an eight-year veteran.
In his debut, Ridder finished with fewer than 100 passing yards. Against the Ravens the following week, he began shaky, missing targets but settled in around the second quarter. He made several impressive throws and gave Atlanta a real chance to come out of Baltimore with his first win. However, a Drake London fumble and some terrible mistakes from the refs ended the Falcons’ chances of a victory.
Against the Cardinals, Ridder improved yet again, posting the best stat line of his young career up to that point — 19-of-26 for 169 yards. Most impressively, Ridder drove the field in the final minutes to give his team a chance to win the game. In the season finale, Ridder threw his first two touchdowns of his career and earned his second victory in the best performance of his career.
All signs point to Ridder taking the reins in 2023, but the Falcons will likely bring in a proven starter to compete in training camp, which makes Marcus Mariota expendable. The story of the offseason revolves around this position group and why it makes financial sense to move on from Mariota. Here’s a recap:
The veteran quarterback has been the center of controversy since the change some odd weeks ago. Mariota seemingly stepped away from the Falcons after learning about his demotion. A phantom injury ended his season despite never appearing on any injury report. By all accounts, Mariota took his ball and went home.
According to reports, the Falcons informed Mariota of the change on Thursday morning; by Friday, the team learned the veteran planned to step away. And the Falcons’ head coach went further to say the injury wasn’t an issue all season and that it was Mariota’s prerogative.
The Falcons will save a whopping $12 million by releasing him while only incurring a $2.5 million dead cap figure. It’s almost impossible to see the Falcons keeping him on the roster in 2023.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire