Marcus Mariota Placed on Injured Reserve
MARCUS MARIOTA PLACED ON INJURED RESERVE – Marcus Mariota has decided to step away from the team to have a chronic knee issue evaluated. The decision came after Arthur Smith informed Mariota last Thursday that he would not start in Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints (4-9). Instead, Smith will start rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has not played an NFL snap yet.
In a wintry press conference this week, Smith outlined the decision, stating that the knee issue is “something chronic” and “nothing that has been an issue.” Smith clarified that the move to Ridder had “nothing to do” with the knee injury. Some players go on IR for chronic reasons and “that’s their prerogative.”
Smith reiterated that the decision to bench Mariota was not due to any injury, but was “performance based.” This is the second time Smith has benched Mariota in his career. The first came when Smith worked as the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.
Mariota started the Falcons season with hopes that he could prove to the NFL his acumen as a primetime quarterback. Many people viewed Mariota as having landed in a terrific spot. Smith is known to rely heavily on the run and write a game script that will minimize the number of mistakes a quarterback can make.
The Falcons over performed for much of the first half of the season. Their advanced metrics looked good, and Mariota seemed a nice counter to the years of the leadfooted, former MVP, Matt Ryan. Atlanta didn’t win every game, but they started 6-0 against the spread and seemed poised to challenge the Buccaneers for the division title.
Mariota has since struggled. Through 13 games this year, Mariota has completed 61.3% of his passes and has thrown for 15 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. His QBR sits at 54.5%.
The advanced metrics tell the same narrative. Mariota ranks 19th in DYAR, 19th in DVOA, and 21st in EYDS (effective yards). These metrics can help evaluate a quarterback’s efficiency and usage, but don’t always give us insight into their effectiveness on the field. Mariota’s usage is low in part because of Smith’s proclivity to lean heavily on the run game, but it may also imply a certain level of distrust between the head coach and his starting quarterback.
Mariota’s most impressive metric is air yards per pass completion (7.2 yards). This stat measures how far the ball traveled in the air past the line of scrimmage to a completion. Mariota ranks third in this category behind Tua Tagovailoa and Josh Allen. This means Mariota isn’t afraid to throw the ball downfield, perhaps to his detriment. This stat eliminates the YAC factor as well, which often masks a quarterback’s effectiveness. Those QBs often rely on dink and dunk passes and a teammate’s ability to generate yards once they have the ball in their hands.
Mariota doesn’t always pass the eye test. He misses wide open receivers and has failed to utilize Kyle Pitts enough. He often reverts to using his legs instead of going through his progressions. Mariota has also made some crucial fourth quarter mistakes that have cost the Falcons in late game situations.
Ridder on the Way
The Falcons will start third-round draft pick Desmond Ridder this Sunday. Ridder amassed a 43-6 record while playing for the Cincinatti Bearcats. Ridder threw for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions during his 2021 campaign with the Bearcats. He boasts a 64.1% winning percentage in college and ranks third-most all time in wins by an FBS quarterback.
Questions remain about Ridder’s accuracy, but he has been lauded for his poise, intelligence, and moxie.
Look for the Falcons to dial up more plays down the field this week. Drake London and Kyle Pitts should be targeted more often than when Mariota started, whose running ability led to the breakdown of plays.
The Saints rank 12th in DVOA for pass defense and 21st in DVOA for run defense so look for Atlanta to rely heavily on Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Algeier this Sunday. This may be the perfect spot for Ridder to get his first start. He shouldn’t be asked to do too much unless the Falcons find themselves in an early deficit.
Mariota’s absence from the Falcons means Atlanta has had to scramble to find a backup. They signed Logan Woodside off of the Titans practice squad. Woodside has appeared in 11 games for the Titans in his career and is 1-3 for 7 yards.
The Falcons also have Feleipe Franks available, who has been converted to a tight end. Franks has one pass attempt in his career in the NFL at quarterback. It was an incompletion.
The depth at quarterback could be an issue for the Falcons for the remainder of the season. Mariota’s decision to place himself on injured reserve and essentially leave the team puts tremendous pressure on a rookie quarterback with no NFL experience.
A frustrated Smith will have to look for answers from his rookie QB as the Falcons continue to pursue a playoff spot in the NFC South.