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Desmond Ridder’s Week 9 Benching Won’t Fix Atlanta Falcons’ Offense

The start of the season has been a rollercoaster for Desmond Ridder and the Atlanta Falcons offense.

If the season ended today, the Falcons would be your NFC South Champions and host a playoff game in the wild-card round — they hold a 4-4 record and are playing some impressive football on the defensive side of the ball.

But Wednesday, Falcons coach Arthur Smith and announced the team would make a change at quarterback and start Taylor Heinicke in Week 9 against the Jaren Hall-led Minnesota Vikings.

Ridder’s benching comes only 12 games into his career, but with the division close and currently in the Falcons’ hands, the team will look to the veteran to hold the ground moving forward.

Problems Run Deeper Than Ridder

The issues with the Falcons’ offense run much deeper than who is playing quarterback. While they need better play from whoever is running the offense, we’ve seen enough from Heinicke over the years to know the six-year veteran will not be a much safer option.

Ridder is coming off an eight-game stretch in which he was completing 65.4 percent of his passes, but turnovers have been a massive problem for the second-year quarterback out of Cincinnati. In just eight games, Ridder has turned the ball over 12 times, which is what likely led Smith to make the aggressive move in a tight division race.

But switching from a young, second-year quarterback to a veteran, six-year quarterback with a track record for making eerily similar mistakes but at a different stage of his career doesn’t seem to be the best move.

Ridder is essentially in his rookie season with the Falcons — he had just four starts in 2022. What makes Smith’s quarterback change even stranger is that Ridder is working off his best two-game stretch of the season from an advanced metric standpoint.

In Weeks 1-6, Ridder ranked 28th in EPA+CPOE composite and 13th in success rate. In Weeks 7 and 8, Ridder ranked 18th in EPA+CPOE composite and 12th in success rate. That makes this quarterback change feel more reactionary because of the Falcons’ 28-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans and less because the quarterback has been the offense’s main issue.

When taking a bit of a deeper dive into Atlanta’s offensive issues, early down efficiency is one area that’s led to a lot of struggles to start the season. Right now, the Falcons sit at league average in third-and-long rate and third-and-long success rate. Atlanta is doing a poor job of staying ahead of the chains and giving its quarterback and offense advantageous looks on third down.

While many will take this as making excuses for Ridder, it’s obvious the Falcons’ offensive struggles are running much deeper than their quarterback. Ridder needs to tone down on turning the football over and look at being more efficient on early downs. However, Smith’s offense needs to work on making things a little bit easier for the second-year, third-round pick.

Instead, Smith will hope Heinicke can clean up on a lot of the offensive flaws with his chaotic style of play. While no one is arguing Ridder’s job should be completely safe for the remainder of the season, turning to Heinicke this early seems more reactionary than well-thought.

Desmond Ridder fumbles at the goal line

Heinicke Isn't the Answer

Maybe Ridder hasn’t done enough to remain the team’s starter in a tightly contested division race. Still, I believe he’s shown enough positive strides during the last few weeks to put my faith in him rather than turning to Heinicke, with whom we have a good idea of what we'll get.

If Atlanta had a higher-ceiling, younger quarterback on its roster to turn to, the switch would make a little more sense. Still, the Falcons need Heinicke to turn into a quarterback he hasn’t shown he can be during his career — the main reason this move leaves me scratching my head. While nothing Ridder has done yet should wow anyone, the same can be said for Heinicke.

I doubt we’ve seen the end of Ridder in Atlanta, and while there’s still plenty of development to be had in his game, the 2022 third-rounder has shown enough in his 12 starts to invest a decent amount of faith in his NFL career.