The season opener between the Falcons and Saints looks much different than the Week 15 tilt this weekend. Atlanta started Marcus Mariota and New Orleans began the year with Jamies Winston. Though the clubs took different paths, both have turned to other signal callers. Andy Dalton will lead Dennis Allen’s team, while rookie Desmond Ridder will take over Arthur Smith’s.
The Saints are a dumpster fire. There is no clear direction. The team’s salary cap is an absolute mess with no inclination of a future at quarterback. And to make matters worse, Dennis Allen is very much the same head coach that got fired from the Oakland Raiders. The Falcons biggest rivals are headed for a complete rebuild, and Atlanta is taking the most significant step in their respective rebuild this weekend.
Ridder will officially take over for Mariota, whose phantom injury resulted in an IR stint, and there’s real hope in the air around Flowery Branch. Coming out of Cincinnati, Ridder was highly touted for his mobility and mental makeup, including his ability to recognize coverages and make quick decisions. Anticipation and accuracy, or lack thereof, was Mariota’s fatal flaw. Ridder’s composure also cannot be understated; he sounded like a 10-year veteran in his first press conference since being named the starter.
“I’m prepared for this,” Ridder said, via the team’s website. “This is what they’ve been preparing me for. They didn’t want to baby me. . . . It means going about the game plan how a 12-year vet, an eight-year vet, whatever it may be, would. Not putting on a wristband — making me memorize every single play call, all the ins and outs, all the checks, all the cadence, just taking it like I’ve been in the league for eight years.”
The Falcons haven’t coddled the rookie and, according to quarterbacks coach Charles London, will have “nothing to scale back in the offense.” Arthur Smith’s scheme won’t radically change; the Falcons will still run the ball and take shot plays off of it regardless of who is at quarterback. However, there will be a more significant emphasis on RPOs (run-pass options), which is what Cincinnati’s offense predominantly used with Ridder. Atlanta’s offense will closer resemble Smith’s Tennessee offense with Ryan Tannehill.
There is a significant advantage the Falcons have over the Saints: it’s Ridder’s debut, which means no film. Similar to the contest in Week 1, where the Saints had no idea what the Falcons’ new offense would look like, the Week 15 matchup will favor the away team in that regard. Still, expect the rookie to struggle as first-year quarterbacks generally do. Ridder has the tools to develop into a capable starter, but development is never linear.
His mental capabilities and athleticism give the Falcons an excellent foundation to build around, and it all begins today against the team’s most hated rivals.
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