It is easy to feel really positive about the Falcons offensive line following the first preseason game. If history tells us anything, it is to not read too much into what happens in the preseason. However, to an extent what happens with the first team units is important and we can get a slight inclination as to how things will look in the 2012 season. And to this point, I have nothing but good conclusions to draw from the Falcons offensive line performance.
In four series of play when the entire first team offensive line and quarterback Matt Ryan were on the field together, Ryan took no sacks, and I can’t remember him being so much as touched in the pocket. (Joe Hawley replaced Todd McClure at center for the third and fourth series, and the line still performed very well.) Ryan was allowed to complete a flurry of passes, and never even felt pressure until well after he delivered the ball. There were two instances where Ryan sensed pressure and rolled out to avoid it; one was real, and he rolled to the sideline where he proceeded to toss the ball to an open receiver for a ten yard gain and a first down. The other was perceived, and had he remained in the pocket and simply shifted slightly he would have had a very solid pocket indeed. For the most part however, he did a good job of standing tall and delivering the ball. Thats where he plays the position the best, and the Falcons have to protect him.
I’m not surprised that Clabo played well, that we didn’t hear Justin Blalock’s name, or that McClure played very well. He is the most experienced player on that offensive line. Joe Hawley did well at guard last year, so again, I’m not terribly surprised that he performed at least decently.
I am surprised that Garrett Reynolds and Sam Baker performed well at right guard and left tackle respectively. Both of them were absolutely miserable in 2011, and I didn’t expect much from them. The good news is that against that extremely large defensive front that the Baltimore Ravens presents, the Falcons o-line held up well and prevented significant Ryan getting killed in the pocket.
People have been saying that Baker was really hurt throughout 2011, and his battle with injuries was the major reason for his struggles. He has been healthy lately, and if he can play like he did in 2010, the Falcons will get by. I don’t know what Garrett Reynolds excuse was last season. I supposed you could write it off as not having an offseason, but this is going to be his fourth season in the league, so it’s not like he’s completely new to things. For whatever its worth, some players take a lot longer to develop than others (just look at the career of Tyson Clabo himself) and there is no doubt that Reynolds played reasonably well in the preseason game.
Just to temper my exuberance about this offensive line and to not make everyone feel like I’m blowing smoke, I have to point out that the Falcons weren’t exactly facing elite pass rushers. The 3-4 defense, of which the Ravens are adherents, is predicated on the massive three d-linemen up front taking up as many blocks as possible, and allowing the linebackers to flow relatively unimpeded to the ball/the quarterback. Terrell Suggs is out with a torn achillies, and rookie Courtney Upshaw (who is projected to do some pass-rushing of his own) was held out with an injury. Now I don’t have game tape to discover who was rushing the passer. But I can promise you two things. 1. The Ravens were rushing at least four on every single play, if not more and 2. I have no idea what the names of those individuals are. The Falcons stymied the pass rush, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were facing a quality pass-rush. They did what I expect them to. I think they will be more proven when they are able to successfully block when there is a proven pass-rusher in addition to a big three up front facing the Falcons offensive line.