When the Falcons signed Marcus Mariota this past offseason, it was widely accepted the veteran would be a stopgap option until the club could figure out the long-term solution at signal caller. Atlanta ended up selecting Desmond Ridder in the third round of the draft a short time later. As a Day 2 pick, the expectation was Ridder would sit much of the season and potentially the entire year as he acclimates to the NFL and Arthur Smith’s offense. Well, nine games into the season and calls for the rookie are growing louder among the fan base.
Ridder must be fucking awful in practice holy shit
— Këv (@lemonpepperkev) November 6, 2022
He doesn't have to be better
Mariota is not just not winning the team games, he's lost several of them. If Ridder isn't better than that then it's time to start looking at 2023 options https://t.co/tUyPHUHqoi
— Carlton (@CrispyCarlton) November 7, 2022
Mariota throwing deep pic.twitter.com/sCK80pjZSs
— Start Ridder, Free Pitts (@RiseUpReader) November 6, 2022
Ridder needs to start soon. If the Falcons lose Thursday, use the mini-bye and see if he can be the right guy.
— Scott Carasik (@CarasikS) November 6, 2022
Mariota wasn’t the only player to blame in the team’s loss to the Chargers. Arthur Smith’s decision-making was suspect, going away from a dominant run game. Drake London had an inexcusable fumble in the red zone. Kyle Pitts dropped an easy pass. Ta’Quon Graham fumbled the ball away after Rashaan Evans poked it out of Austin Ekeler‘s hands on the Chargers’ game-winning drive. Cornell Armstrong had a rough day against LA’s backup receivers. As I said, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Unfortunately, a lot of it rests on Mariota’s shoulders. He has seemingly not completed a single pass over 25+ yards through the air. Sure, there’s been a few explosive plays every game, but most of the time, a majority of the gain comes via yards after the catch. The veteran is accurate when throwing it short, completing 9-of-10 passes shorter than 10 yards against the Chargers. However, Mariota went just 1-of-8 on passes 15+ yards. When you have big-bodied pass catchers like Kyle Pitts and Drake London, who make 50-50 balls closer to 60-40, that’s a problem. Mariota finished with less than 150 passing yards for the fifth time this season, posting a final stat line of 12-of-23 for 129 yards with zero touchdowns or interceptions.
Mariota’s 2022 campaign has been a bag of mixed results, which is honestly just a microcosm of his career. Coming off the best game of his Falcons career against the Panthers, he turned in one of his worst performances. Even in his “best” showing against Carolina two weeks ago, he still threw two horrid interceptions. And if the Falcons didn’t win that game in overtime, we’d be pointing the finger at Mariota again.
Despite all he does to extend plays with his legs, playing on time and in rhythm is difficult for him if the first read isn’t open. For the most part, he’s held this offense back. Mariota and the Falcons blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in the opener against the Saints. He threw a game-sealing interception to Jalen Ramsey in Week 2. Against the Browns, the veteran came out with a win but posted a 36.8 completion percentage. The following week against the Bengals, Mariota only threw the ball 13 times despite being down by two scores for much of the game — an indictment of what Arthur Smith thinks of his quarterback.
There are some bright moments, however. Against the Niners, he had a nearly perfect game and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. The former No. 2 overall pick completed 93% of his passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 50 yards and a score on the ground for a near-perfect passer rating of 144.6.
Mariota is incredibly inconsistent. He manages the offense well and flashes the athleticism that made him such a high-profile player once upon a time. His mobility allows him to extend plays when pressure arrives and allows Arthur Smith to be creative with his play design. But there’s no covering up the fact that his arm isn’t getting the job done.
Though the calls for Ridder are becoming louder, we (the fans) don’t get to see the rookie in practice. He could be absolutely horrendous, making the wrong decisions, throwing picks left and right. I don’t doubt Mariota is more capable above the shoulders; he should be as a veteran. But maybe the worry of messing up is clouding his judgment because he rarely looks decisive in the pocket. Given the playoffs are within the Falcons’ grasp, benching the experienced starter for the inexperience rookie will never be the right decision. However, the further we get into the season, the more clear it becomes Mariota is holding this offense back. On a short week, the Falcons certainly won’t pull the trigger before Thursday Night Football. But maybe after a mini bye week, does the team turn to Ridder?
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire