Of course, the reality that the Falcons have a better chance of winning with Mariota hardly is the point for fans on Team Tank. They want the Falcons to change QBs now so the team can see if Ridder has what it takes to be the long-term answer. For those fans, losing games with Ridder is OK because the Falcons aren’t going anywhere, anyway.
The members of Team Tank have a more compelling case than those who believe the Falcons are better off with Ridder as the starter. But I believe the Falcons should do everything possible to win games. That’s not because of some antiquated ideas about the integrity of the game. Rather, I see it as the obligation of professional entertainers to put on the best show they can.
Anyway, circumstances have intervened to make Team Tank’s argument moot. The Falcons have a real chance of making the playoffs.
The Falcons will play four games over the next six weeks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they’re 2-1, with the defeat by one point. The Falcons have seven games left against teams ranked in the bottom 10 by the Football Outsider efficiency metric (adjusted by situation and opponent). FiveThirtyEight’s statistical model gives the Falcons a 32% chance of winning the South, second highest in the South behind the Bucs (61%). That forecast is heavily influenced by quarterback play, which means it probably assumes Brady eventually will perform like, well, Brady.
But he’s been mortal so far. The Bucs rank tied for 26th in points scored. The Falcons rank 12th in points, and Mariota’s Total Quarterback Rating is best in the South. Carolina is starting P.J. Walker against the Falcons on Sunday. Jameis Winston’s back is hurting, so the Saints reportedly are sticking with Andy Dalton, who is Mariota without the mobility.
No doubt, Mariota had a bad game in the 35-17 loss at the Bengals. Related: The Falcons had bad down-and-distance situations all day. That’s a tough spot for a team that isn’t built to throw long often. Maybe you didn’t like Falcons coach Arthur Smith’s decision to stick with Mariota with the Falcons down 35-17 late in the third quarter. That’s fair. But consider whether it would be good for Ridder to make his debut in a game where Cincinnati’s capable pass rushers were free to ignore the run and go after him.
The Falcons should start Mariota until he’s no longer the best option. Beyond the particulars of Mariota versus Ridder, look at the big picture of NFL quarterbacks. Good ones are very hard to find. Mariota’s issues with ball security and passing accuracy mean he’s no better than second tier among NFL quarterbacks. But there are times when Mariota’s ability to make plays out of nothing is the only thing the Falcons have going on offense.
Mariota still is a credible starting quarterback. After 14 years of stability at quarterback, the Falcons have joined the long list of franchises getting by with a transitory QB. Before the season, SB Nation’s James Dator noted that only 10 teams were set to start the same quarterback as they did in 2019. Among the 22 QBs who departed their teams, 21 were starters on new teams to begin this season.
It’s down to 20 after Ryan’s benching, not including starters who are injured or suspended. Apparently, plenty of people believe the Falcons will be the next team to make a quarterback change.
At Sportsbetting.ag, Mariota has the second-shortest odds of being the next NFL quarterback benched for non-injury reasons, behind Jared Goff (Lions). Those aren’t some of the many made-up odds that are thrown around. It’s a real betting market and, as of Tuesday afternoon, Goff’s odds were down from 3-1 to 2 ½-1, while Mariota’s odds went up a bit from 4-1.
I would bet against Mariota being the next QB benched. That would be a knee-jerk reaction by Smith. He’s proved to be calculating with his decisions in 24 games as Falcons coach. Smith is in Year 2 of trying to build a winning program. He would risk his credibility with players if he benched Mariota with the Falcons in the playoff hunt and started Ridder before he’s ready.
The Falcons should ride Mariota so long as he gives them the best chance to win.