Meet Me at the Logo is a series where Charles McDonald argues a take he’s passionate about after each week in the NFL. If you disagree, you know where to find him.
The Atlanta Falcons find themselves in an unusual situation right now. The team is more competitive than many people predicted coming into the year, they have a few star players that are playing really good football and they're currently on a two-game winning streak.
All that is good for a team that’s clearly in a rebuilding phase, but they have one pressing problem as far as their current setup goes: It’s time to consider a change at quarterback. Marcus Mariota has been the starter this season after spending the last few seasons as a backup for the Tennessee Titans and Las Vegas Raiders. The more games that the Falcons play, the more it’s apparent that Mariota is a backup-caliber quarterback. Which is fine! A high-caliber backup quarterback is a great asset to have on an NFL roster.
However, being one of the most run-heavy teams after spending premium picks in the last two drafts on a tight end and a wide receiver isn’t the best use of resources. The Falcons have had no problems getting their rushing game off the ground, ranking ninth in success rate (45.8%) according to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, but their passing game certainly has more juice to squeeze. Kyle Pitts is one of the most talented tight ends in the league and Drake London has hit the ground running as a rookie wide receiver.
Mariota completed just 7-of-19 passing attempts for 139 yards and an interception in the Falcons’ win over the Cleveland Browns last Sunday. As a runner, he’s offered a lot to the offense by being able to extend plays and handle their new-look pistol formations. There’s just a lot of potential going unrealized in the passing game. Mariota has had some impressive moments this season throwing the ball, but his production hasn’t been good enough to suggest that his seat should be safe for the entire season.
Or, even right now. While the Falcons are 2-2, they're very much in the early stages of a rebuilding process. Mariota hasn’t been a steady enough hand for this offense to the point where they don’t need to explore the other promising quarterback option sitting right on the bench.
That’s right, third-round rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder should get a chance to start.
A lot of the clamoring for Ridder to be inserted into the starting lineup has to do with his performance in the preseason. He was confident, poised, accurate and already showed a strong grasp of the offense and the Falcons’ pass protection schemes in a short amount of time. Mariota may be a more natural runner in the open field than Ridder, but Ridder did run a 4.53 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and showed off a strong ability to scramble in the preseason. There’s no reason to think that the Falcons’ run game would fall off by making Ridder the starting quarterback.
Mariota is not the future of the Falcons’ franchise. He might have a role in it as a backup quarterback, but he’s not going to be The Guy for them. Ridder might not either, but it’s worth finding out what he can do before the offseason approaches — and who knows, he might be good enough where a top pick in the 2023 NFL draft can be spent on a non-quarterback position. At the very least, the Falcons should explore the idea of starting a quarterback that hasn’t fumbled the ball six times and thrown four interceptions in four games. Getting the unicorn at tight end a few more catchable targets would make life easier as well.
Pitts is too talented to have 10 catches for 150 yards through four games. That's really no fault of his own. There have been opportunities to get Pitts the ball, but Mariota has missed him either with his accuracy or his process in the pocket as a passer. Football coaches aren't inclined to make changes after ripping off a few wins, and the truth is this Falcons team is a fourth-quarter meltdown away from being 3-1, but this is a great time for them re-evaluate what they're doing in the passing game and collect data on whether or not Ridder can be their long-term franchise quarterback.
And if head coach Arthur Smith disagrees with that, and Pitts continues to have a statistically disappointing season, Smith can meet me at the logo to discuss.