FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons started their game-week preparations Monday with Desmond Ridder back under center as the starting quarterback.
Ridder looked smooth during the open portion of practice, dropping off passes to the running backs while working alongside Logan Woodside. Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke was off to the side with the training staff, working his way back from a hamstring injury.
“I felt great,” Ridder said. “That’s my job. My job is to be a starting quarterback in this league. Everyday I come in here, everyone, no matter quarterback, running back, doesn’t matter your position, wants to be that starter.”
After reflecting over the bye week, coach Arthur Smith felt the team needed to re-insert Ridder as the starting quarterback. And Ridder’s first game will be a big one -- Sunday’s showdown with the Saints for first place in the NFC South.
“We talked about before Arizona, that we’d assess everything coming off the bye,” Smith said Monday. “Obviously, how the game went. He did a nice job of having to come back into that game. Gave us a chance. Situation is where it’s at. We think that gives us the best chance.”
Ridder took the offense on a 8-play, 74-yard touchdown drive to give the Falcons a 23-22 lead with 2:33 to play, but the Cardinals would eventually win on a field goal at the final buzzer.
After taking over for Heinicke, Ridder had a previous drive that stalled on a fourth down when he slipped on a quarterback sneak.
“We have a lot of confidence in Des,” Smith said. “We think the last couple of weeks he’s handled it really well. A couple of things going on. I think the reset will be very beneficial for him.”
Ridder was removed from the starting position, in part, because he led the league with 12 turnovers at the time. Sitting back and watching was helpful, he said.
“Looking at myself, there were a lot of things I could have went back and done better,” Ridder said. “I could have protected the ball. There are a lot of situations that could have led you to not get in those situations.
“Whether if it’s your footwork. Your reads. Whether if it’s your progression. It doesn’t matter. Just finding little ways to get better. Then ultimately, at the end of the day, staying calm back there, trusting your reads. Trusting what you see and that’s going to make your play (better).”
Heinicke went on to lead the Falcons to 20 points in the second of the Tennessee game, the team’s most explosive half of the season. But in the starting role against the Vikings and Arizona, he couldn’t sustain that scoring pace.
The Falcons have not scored more than 28 points in a game this season and are averaging 18.9 points, which ranks 24th in the league. The offense looks to find another gear upon Ridder’s return.
“There is a lot going on,” Smith said. “I think the things the way they worked out, I think we’re in a good spot. Des is certainly prepared, fired up and ready to go.”
What’s the plan to cut down or eliminate the turnovers? Ridder had six interceptions and seven fumbles, including six lost fumbles.
“You’ve got to look at them all,” Smith said. “If there is a common theme. What’s happening? The ones that happen in the pocket are different than the ones obviously when you are pushing the ball down the field. It’s not just all on one player.”
Also, the Falcons must improve in the red zone. They have scored 17 touchdowns on 32 trips (53.1%).
“You look at everything,” Smith said. “Some stats can be misleading. If you don’t turn the ball over a few times in Tampa, that puts you in the top 10, but are you really satisfied? No. We need more trips….it’s the whole picture.”
The move back to Ridder was popular in the locker room.
“Des is my boy, I’m happy for him,” wide receiver Drake London said. “So, we are just trying to get the ball rolling and get back to where we were.”
Right guard Chris Lindstrom: “Both of those guys (Ridder and Heinicke) have been great. Fortunately, enough, we have a ton of reps built up with both of them. It’s been easy to adjust. Our operation stays the game and the communication they give us has been awesome.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.