The Atlanta Falcons must bench Marcus Mariota in favor of Desmond Ridder right away.
After the Thursday night disaster in the Charlottean rain, it was abundantly clear to everyone watching what the Atlanta Falcons must do: Head coach Arthur Smith must bench starting quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of third-round rookie Desmond Ridder, effective immediately.
While it is understandable why Smith went with Mariota for the Thursday Night Football game at the Carolina Panthers, everybody finally saw what Falcons fans have been talking about all season long: Mariota is too inherently reckless to be trusted in winning time. Ridder is very green, but Mariota’s awful play of late has forced Smith’s hands to give him a real starting opportunity.
Atlanta will have 10 days to prepare before the lowly Chicago Bears come to town next Sunday.
Atlanta Falcons must bench Marcus Mariota and start Desmond Ridder already
Before we get into why it is time for Atlanta to bench Mariota, let’s get into why he is starting in the first place. Well, he played for Smith two stops ago when they were with the Tennessee Titans. Mariota is not devoid of talent. He won the Heisman Trophy and went No. 2 overall to the Titans in the 2015 NFL Draft. However, injuries and poor decision-making are what got him benched there.
Mariota is at his best when he can lean on an effective running game, in which he can utilize the play-action or the zone read. While he can be accurate in the short-to-medium passing game, he can be especially erratic off-script, as illustrated by some of the nonsense we all saw out of him in the Carolina downpour on Thursday. I mean, he tried to throw the ball on his back for Pete’s sake!
Although Mariota is a likable guy and a talented quarterback at that, he is just too consistently inconsistent to be a long-term starting solution anywhere. He gave it all he had in the first half of his first season with the Falcons, but it is sadly over. Smith may stay in denial over it, but doing so will be the only manner in which he could conceivably lose his job after two seasons at the helm.
At 4-6, the Falcons are still very much alive to win the horrendous NFC South. The problem with that is it is a mirage. The Dirty Birds are not that good of a football team. Have they overachieved this season? Absolutely, but we have seen a regression to the mean in recent weeks. The defense is injured and looks more and more like the Dan Quinn nonsense we all dealt with for six seasons.
Yes, getting back cornerbacks A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward would be absolutely splendid, but this team is not competing for anything more than a one-and-done NFC playoff exit until next season. That is when the Falcons can finally be big spenders in free agency. This is when the Dirty Birds can make their true and honest ascension toward the top of the lowly NFC South standings.
But even heading into the offseason, Atlanta needs to know one thing, and one thing only: Is Ridder a guy? That is the only thing that matters right now. The sooner he gets a few starts under his belt, the better. Although he may not have a high ceiling, he could totally be Atlanta’s version of Dak Prescott or Ryan Tannehill and win a bunch of games. The best part is he can do this cheaply.
Since Ridder is not a former first-round pick, he is on a team-friendly, four-year deal with the Dirty Birds. That means Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot can use all of the extra financial capital on surrounding Ridder with the best talent possible before he approaches any serious second contract discussions. The Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl with Russell Wilson in this manner.
Admittedly, saying the Falcons are winning the NFC at any point in the next four years is patently absurd. However, what is not ridiculous is the chance Ridder can make rudimentary throws to tight end extraordinaire Kyle Pitts, as well as emerging No. 1 wide receiver Drake London, both of whom are first-rounders still on their rookie contracts. This trio can win the NFC South, maybe right now?
While Mariota and Ridder have similar athletic attributes, it is Ridder’s leadership and intangibles that could set him apart. Underrecruited out of Louisville, Ridder went on to become the greatest quarterback in Cincinnati Bearcats’ history. Ridder led UC to the College Football Playoff out of the Group of Five in its current four-team format. That should never, ever, ever happen, but it sure did!
Although he has not played a snap in a game that counts this season, Ridder shined in extended action in the preseason. The stage never looked too big for him, as he played with the poise and confidence of a quarterback much more seasoned than a third-round rookie. Most importantly, he looked absolutely disgusted on the sideline Thursday night in the loss. We know he hates to lose…
Could Ridder be the guy? Maybe, but we are not going to know for certain until he gets his real opportunity to play. This may be a controversial move in the locker room because Mariota is so well-liked, but if he is the one to break the news to his new teammates like Matt Ryan did once Sam Ehlinger was named the Indianapolis Colts starter over him, they could learn to live with it.
Ultimately, it was always going to come down to Mariota’s play. He had his moments in a Falcons uniform for sure, but now is time for Smith to rip the band-aid off and see what the kid has got. If this blows up in Atlanta’s face, this would not be the first time the Falcons have embarrassed themselves. If Ridder stinks, then the Falcons can draft C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young with confidence.
But if Ridder is the guy, then the Falcons can select a star pass-rusher or an elite defensive back.