Falcons: Comparing the first 4 starts of Desmond Ridder and Matt Ryan

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The Falcons are seemingly in purgatory, but that could all change if Desmond Ridder proves to be the franchise quarterback of the future. Some NFL teams go decades without finding the guy. Others, like the Packers, go from one Hall of Famer to the next. It’s not a science, and it’s by far the hardest position to project in professional sports because so much of it is between the ears.

The Falcons had stability at the position for more than a decade after one of the most turbulent periods in the organization’s history. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith rose from the ashes of Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, making the playoffs in four of their first five seasons together. It was a magical time in Atlanta. Falcons fans had been humiliated by the respective yet connected Vick and Petrino fiascos but came away with the greatest quarterback in team history. And believe it or not, Desmond Ridder is off to a better start than Ryan.

In his first four games, 23-year-old Matty Ice threw for 669 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions on 55-of-105 passing (52.4%). He fumbled the ball once while posting a 6.4 Y/A and 5.9 AY/A, coming out of those contests with a .500 record.

In comparison, 23-year-old Ridder threw for 708 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions on 73-of-115 passing (63.5%), good for a 6.2 A/Y and 6.5 AY/Y. Ridder did fumble it three times but also finished with an even 2-2 record. Even if it is marginal, the stats say Ridder’s first four games were more productive.

However, the surrounding personnel and opponents need to be considered. DVOA will be the metric I’ll use to analyze those facets of the argument. It’s widely regarded as one of the most inclusive advanced metrics for the NFL. Basically, it’s a statistic that considers factors that traditional stats wouldn’t.

If you’re unfamiliar with that term, here is Football Outsiders’ definition:

DVOA measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation

So, let’s dive into how the 2022 and 2008 Falcons compare, as well as their opponents — all figures courteous of Football Outsiders.

2008 Falcons DVOA
  • Offense: 9th (8.9%)
  • Defense: 17th (3.5%)
  • Special Teams: 7th (3.8%)
  • Total: 12th (9.2%)
2022 Falcons DVOA
  • Offense: 13th (5.8%)
  • Defense: 30th (11.1%)
  • Special Teams: 5th (2.5%)
  • Total: 20th (2.8%)
2008 opponents’ Total DVOA
  • Week 1: Lions 32nd (-45.2%)
  • Week 2: Buccaneers 11th (9.3%)
  • Week 3: Chiefs 30th (-30.6%)
  • Week 4: Panthers 6th (18.2%)
2022 opponents’ Total DVOA
  • Week 15: Saints 19th (-1.7%)
  • Week 16: Ravens 7th (17.9%)
  • Week 17: Cardinals 29th (-22.4%)
  • Week 18: Buccaneers 17th (-0.7%)

It’s clear the metric favors Matt Ryan’s supporting cast over Desmond Ridder’s. The Falcons were a marginally better overall offense in 2008 than in 2022 over the course of the season, but the respective defenses were much further apart, once again favoring Ryan. The only metric that leans toward Ridder is the 2022 special teams unit — Marquice Williams deserves a raise. Overall, the 2008 team was a little better than league average, while the 2022 group was slightly worse than the league average.

The opponents are interesting; rather than looking at the league rankings, the total DVOA percentages paint a clearer picture. For example, the 2008 Chiefs were 30.6% below league average. Compare that to the 2022 Cardinals, who were 22.4% below league average but were ranked 29th and 30th. Look at the 2008 Lions, who are widely regarded as one of the worst teams of all time, finishing the season a perfect 0-16. Detroit finished with a total DVOA of -45.2% — that’s incomprehensibly bad.

Matt Ryan faced the best team — 2008 Panthers (18.2% DVOA) — but also faced the two worst opponents by a large margin — Lions (-45.2%) and Chiefs (-30.6%). Desmond Ridder had the best win against the Buccaneers, but the victory should have an asterisk, considering Tampa Bay’s starters didn’t play the entire contest. Still, if we exclude that matchup, Ridder’s first career win against the Cardinals was more impressive, in terms of opponents’ total DVOA, than either of Ryan’s first two victories.

It really is only marginal, and nobody knows how the Cincinnati product will develop, but Ridder’s first four starts were slightly more impressive than Ryan’s. I’m not saying Desmond Ridder is going to be better than Matt Ryan. Developing as a quarterback in the NFL is a grind because the margin for error is so incredibly thin, but he’s at least off to a promising start.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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