4. Atlanta Falcons: Falcons linemen like to joke about their lack of talent. Really, it’s a rallying cry for them to work together. While it’s true that this group doesn’t have overwhelming talent, it works together in much the same way that New England’s unit thrives. If left tackle Sam Baker and third-round guard Mike Johnson progress, the Falcons will solidify this spot.
The Falcons have rated in the top half of the league in every position so far. Wide Receivers – 8th. Running Backs – 7th. Quarterbacks – 15th.
Hit the jump to see how the rest of the NFC South fared.
1. New Orleans Saints: There were only two teams that ranked in the top 10 of both run and pass-blocking efficiency last year according to Football Outsiders. It should be no surprise that those teams rank in the top two spots. Then again, it’s a delicate situation. The Saints were clearly the best unit in the league last year, led by guard Jahri Evans, who many people believe has surpassed Minnesota’s Steve Hutchinson(notes) as the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL. But the real key is that this group works very well together and is consistent at creating space for Drew Brees to step up or keeping defensive linemen from getting in his face quickly (Brees is susceptible to batted passes because he’s only 6-feet tall). The running game is still something of a mirage, but this group makes it work.
19. Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were the definition of mediocrity last season on the line, ranking No. 17 in both run and pass blocking. The group is probably a little better than that, given how good the running game was last season despite the collapse of quarterback Jake Delhomme. The good news is that the talent is there for significant improvement with the likes of left tackle Jordan Gross, left guard Travelle Wharton, center Ryan Khalil and right guard Jeff Otah. It’s easy to see that this group could jump six or seven spots.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs were awful when it came to running the ball (No. 31 overall in run efficiency), but really did a pretty good job of keeping the quarterback clean (No. 11 in pass blocking). They did that despite the carousel of quarterbacks that started with Byron Leftwich and ended with rookie Josh Freeman. There’s still a long way to go, but the group is steady and anchored by center Jeff Faine and guard Davin Joseph.