FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP)The Atlanta Falcons appeared to be committed to a run-first offense through the first four weeks of the season.
Desmond Ridder has posted back-to-back games with more than 300 passing yards the past two weeks, the first of his career. Coach Arthur Smith says the offense is evolving, even if the changes have come with some pain, including Ridder’s three interceptions in last week’s 24-16 home loss to Washington.
It was Ridder’s second game with three turnovers in the past three weeks, a disturbing trend. Smith prefers to describe the two turnover-filled games as exceptions to the quarterback’s ability to avoid mistakes in most of his 10 starts.
Ridder threw and ran for touchdowns while passing for a career-high 329 yards with no interceptions in a 21-19 win over Houston on Oct. 8. The second-year quarterback passed for 307 yards with two touchdowns last week, but the three interceptions spoiled his day.
Even so, Ridder said Wednesday he hopes the Falcons’ sudden upswing in passing yards makes it more difficult for Tampa Bay to devise a defensive scheme for Sunday’s game.
“I hope every single week a defense has to second-guess what our plan is going to be,” Ridder said. “Are we going to throw it 50 times or are we going to run it 50 times? For us an offense, obviously it’s huge to try to keep a defense on its toes.”
Entering the season, Atlanta was determined to build its offense around running backs Bijan Robinson, the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, and Tyler Allgeier, who ran for 1,035 yards as a rookie in 2022.
Robinson leads the Falcons (3-3) with 401 yards rushing, but his only two touchdowns have come as a receiver. He has been held under 50 yards on the ground in three of the past four games as defenses have stacked the box against Atlanta’s running game. Robinson had 13 carries for only 37 yards against Washington.
Smith hopes a more balanced Atlanta offense creates opportunities for Robinson and Ridder.
“You want balance,” Smith said Wednesday. “I’ve seen improvement. Obviously you want to eliminate the errors, but I’ve seen obvious improvement.”
When asked about the new-look offense following Sunday’s loss, Smith said: “Why force 45 runs when you have other ways to move it? That’s why you want to be balanced.”
With the increased emphasis on the passing game, especially downfield throws, has come an increase in interceptions. Ridder has six interceptions with six touchdown passes in six games.
Veteran backup Taylor Heinicke has remained on the sideline as Smith stays loyal to Ridder. Even so, the coach said Wednesday the turnovers can’t continue.
“You look at patterns and have to acknowledge them,” Smith said. “You don’t want to sugar-coat anything. You have to learn from your mistakes, too. … If it becomes a major trend, then you have a bigger problem.”
Smith said he sees “things you’ve got to fix” in the passing game but added “there is progress being made … some big-time throws being made.”
Ridder showed frustration on the sideline following his second interception on Sunday but generally has remained poised.
“It’s neutral thinking, it’s never being too high, never being too low,” Ridder said. “Throughout the entire game there’s ups and downs. … You’ve kind of just got to take a good look in the mirror and see where you went wrong, where you could have done better and move on to the future.”
NOTES: The Falcons released safety Jaylinn Hawkins, who started 16 games in 2022, and signed safety Micah Abernathy from the practice squad. Hawkins was a fourth-round pick in 2020 who had three tackles as a backup this season.
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