“Those are tough, tough lessons for a young quarterback,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.
This was a risk the Falcons took when they elected to go with Ridder as the starter for his second season. For all his faults as a passer, Marcus Mariota provided the Falcons with a running threat. Ridder doesn’t really do that, and now he’s also got a big problem with putting the ball in danger.
Ridder has two interceptions and (unofficially) four dropped interceptions in 119 attempts this season. Ridder isn’t offsetting those plays with big ones. He’s got two touchdown passes and his 6.3 yards per attempt rank near the bottom among NFL starters. Ridder didn’t show much as a passer in four games last season but at least he had no interceptions in 115 pass attempts.
The evidence indicates Ridder is regressing with his passing accuracy and with avoiding turnover-worthy throws. The Falcons play host to the Texans next weekend. Houston should offer less defensive resistance than the Jaguars, but it won’t matter if the offense isn’t sharper, starting with Ridder.
“Get back in there and be able to take control of the gameplan,” Ridder said of how he’ll bounce back. “Go in there, lead these guys, don’t create no division (with the) team and everyone. And myself, just go out there and be a leader. I’m supposed to get better at the end of the day.”
The Falcons badly need that. The run-heavy offense is getting diminishing returns and the defense, while improved, isn’t good enough to carry the team. The Falcons need Ridder to make enough winning plays passing, but he made losing decisions against the Jaguars.
The Falcons were in passing situations often early and Ridder couldn’t get them back ahead of the sticks. The Falcons were down 10-0 before they gained a first down. That drive ended with a punt just like the first two.
Said Smith: “We’ve got to a better job, and it starts with me, jump-starting the offense early. . . . That’s something we’ve got to look at, and it’s not just one person.”
The Falcons finally got something going on their fourth possession. Ridder found his rhythm with short passes to Bijan Robinson, Jonnu Smith and KhaDarel Hodge. The Falcons had a first down on Jacksonville’s side of the field when Ridder made his first big mistake.
He was trying to pass to Drake London. Darious Williams intercepted it and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown that pushed Jacksonville’s lead to 17-0. Williams barely had to move to catch Ridder’s pass. That’s been a common theme for Ridder’s picks and near-picks.
It seems that defenders are getting a read on Ridder and jumping his passes. Williams told reporters that Jaguars defenders noticed tendencies for the Falcons on their quick passes and so could anticipate Ridder’s throws. That’s on Smith, too.
Ridder made his second big mistake on the play following the pick-six. He tried passing to Kyle Pitts, who wasn’t open. Jaguars safety Andre Cisco secured the interception and ran it back to Atlanta’s 18-yard line, where he fumbled. Teammate Foye Oluokon recovered at the 20.
The Falcons were in trouble. They were down by three scores and had barely mustered any offense. Now the Jags were in the red zone. The Falcons got a reprieve Jacksonville decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. The pocket quickly collapsed around quarterback Trevor Lawrence and David Onyemata got the sack.
The Falcons couldn’t do anything with that turnover. Ridder missed a chance for a big play. Falcons wide receiver Mack Hollins got behind Williams, but Ridder’s throw was well short of the target. He was lucky that Williams dropped the potential interception.
For the second week in a row hardly anything was going right for Atlanta’s offense.
Said Smith: “I thought we were a little tight and I told them (at halftime), ‘Guys, relax. Stop pressing.’”
The Falcons got the ball first after halftime. They desperately needed a touchdown. Robinson, the best thing going for their offense, helped them do it.
Robinson started to his left, then cut back right for a 38-yard run to Jacksonville’s 28-yard line. The Falcons faced another third-and-long at the 15-yard line when Ridder delivered a nice throw to London at the left front pylon. London spun and caught it for a touchdown.
After all that had gone wrong for the Falcons, they were down just 17-7 with more than 26 minutes left in the game. The defense was doing its part. There was time to come back. But the Falcons wouldn’t score again. Ridder was better after halftime, but it wasn’t good enough because he was so bad before.
Atlanta’s last gasp came on a fourth-and-3 six yards from Jacksonville’s end zone with six-plus minutes left. Smith said the Jaguars were bringing extra pass rushers from the middle, so the play called for Ridder to roll to his right. He passed to London, who caught the ball despite tight coverage but couldn’t get both feet inbounds.
The Falcons left London with another loss and, surely, some doubts about their young quarterback.