The national media has begun to change their tone on narratives surrounding Desmond Ridder and the Falcons after their Week 7 win over the Buccaneers that vaulted them into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
To begin the season, most analysts and reporters figured the Derek Carr-led Saints would win the division. A veteran team with the best quarterback out of the NFC South was the obvious pick, right?
Well, as I said before the season, Carr isn’t some world-beater and isn’t close to the kind of quarterback that can overcome Pete Carmichael’s shortcomings as offensive coordinator. Now, the rest of the NFL world is beginning to see the same.
Ridder didn’t have to be the best quarterback in the division; all he had to do was keep the train on the tracks. For the most part, that’s what he’s done. There are obviously things that need to be corrected, like his carelessness with the football, but Ridder is improving and trending in the right direction.
The Falcons are gearing up for a playoff push, and former NFL head coach Marc Trestman of the 33rd Team believes Ridder is setting the table for a postseason berth.
Ridder’s footwork and base in the pocket have become more consistent and disciplined. Also, he’s playing with a visibly elevated confidence that was not consistently on display in 2022.
Last December, I noted that Ridder needed to improve his staging of the ball. At times, he held the ball away from his body and below the waist, causing his release to be elongated, which negatively affected his accuracy.
This season, his staging of the ball is closer to his body and is higher, with the ball’s tip at the ‘V’ of his neck. This improvement has resulted in a quicker release, leading to improved anticipation and increased accuracy. The boost to his accuracy and anticipation has led to more explosive throws into tight windows.
Aside from his improved accuracy, Ridder is growing in his ability to both read and manipulate defenses. He’s been decisive, processing quickly and reading defenses while working through and finishing his progressions to find his flare control receiver when necessary. Ridder’s average time to throw this year is substantially lower, going from 3.06 seconds in 2022 to 2.53 seconds this season.
The improvement Ridder has shown is undeniable. His Week 7 performance in Tampa Bay was arguably the best of his career. He didn’t eclipse his top marks in any area, but I’m more focused on the process.
Against a very good Buccaneers defense, Ridder looked in control of the offense, never played out of the system, and took what they gave him. He looked poised under pressure and never flinched in the face of adversity.
However, it’s important to compartmentalize his performances because the turnovers cannot continue to happen at the rate they’ve come. He’s constantly putting the ball in harm’s way. It’s held the offense back to this point and could be the reason for Ridder’s demise.
Through seven games, he’s turned the ball over a league-leading 11 times (six interceptions and five fumbles). Although not every turnover was entirely Ridder’s fault, this is still far too many.
In Atlanta’s Week 6, 24-16 loss to the Commanders, Ridder threw three interceptions that all came on third down. One of these was while taking a serious hit, and another was partially due to a poorly run route, but turning the ball over that many times in a one-score loss is unacceptable.
His ball security came under significant scrutiny this past week when he fumbled three times in the red zone against the Buccaneers, allowing the game to be much closer than it should’ve been.
The most important job of a quarterback is to protect the ball and limit turnovers. Ridder must understand that and correct his mistakes moving forward.
Still, compartmentalizing these performances is important. Ridder has engineered game-winning field goal drives in two of the past three games against the Texans and Buccaneers. He rebounded after mistakes, showed maturity and made plays when the lights were brightest.
Desmond Ridder’s development is tangible, and the Falcons should be encouraged by that.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire