Every week I take a gander at the quality of play of the Atlanta Falcons offensive line on the previous Sunday. It’s certainly been up and down throughout the 2012 season, but against the New York Giants, the Falcons o-line was at it’s very best. It was even more impressive since the Giants boast one of the best pass-rushing defensive lines in the entire NFL. I’ll take a look at some of the key positive and negative plays by the Falcons o-line.
First, I can’t say enough about the Falcons ability to run the ball after the first interception of the day. I stated several times leading up to the game that the Falcons needed to get the run game going, and they started their first possession, on a short field, by running the ball. Only four plays, 16 yards, and a touchdown to put the Falcons up with an early 7-0 lead. Good job by the line opening holes to get the ground game going, to get the d-line on their heels right off the bat.
On the first pass of the game, Ryan threw a screen pass to Julio Jones. It was only a 4-yard gain, but LT Sam Baker did a great job getting out and throwing a block. For a guy who was so injured and maligned last season, this play exemplified that he truly is an athletically talented left tackle. This play also would set up a big play later in the game.
One interesting play that showed good protection was a 5-yard pass play from Ryan to Roddy White. It wasn’t a big play, but Ryan held the ball for a beat, and relied on his offensive line to protect him from the Giant’s 4-man pass rush. Tyson Clabo was asked to win 1-on-1 situation with Jason Pierre-Paul, and Sam Baker was asked to win a 1-on-1 with Osi Umenyiora. Both of them did so spectacularly. The Falcons interior line had a 3-on-2 situation with the Giants defensive tackles, a situation they took care of admirably.
I mentioned the screen pass to Julio that set up a big pass earlier, and it’s time to address it. Julio ran a screen, which forced the defense to run towards him. Harry Douglas ran a wheel route, so the sideline breaking route perfectly simulated a block, and then he headed vertically up the field. By the time Ryan had pump-faked to Jones, Douglas had broken up the field, blew past his defender, and reeled in a beautiful 37-yard catch from Ryan before being eventually pushed out of bounds. That fake set the whole thing up. The other thing that made that play possible was an outstanding block by Sam Baker. Osi Umenyiora tried to speed rush Sam Baker, and Baker initially gave up the edge. However, Baker stayed with Osi, caught up, and eventually pushed Osi well past the pocket and essentially out of the play. Ryan had all the time in the world to throw the pass.
To illustrate that an offensive line doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective, we can look at Matt Ryan’s touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez. On the play, the right defensive end and defensive tackle performed a stunt, where the DT pushed straight up the field, and DE Umenyiora came back inside to rush the quarterback. He wasn’t really picked up when he released from Baker, but it took long enough that by the time he reached Ryan, the pass had already been delivered, on target, for a touchdown.
A great run-blocking play by this line was a 2nd quarter 9-yard run by Turner. LT Sam Baker and LG Justin Blalock blocked the play down the line to the inside, and immediately got their respective DE and DT out of the play. Fullback Mike Cox got a big block on the linebacker, and it opened a huge hole for Turner to get a big 9-yard run. Good job blocking down by the line, and second level block by the fullback.
There was really only one bad possession for this offensive line, and it all seemed to come from Justin Blalock. First, Blalock gets pushed inside by Chris Canty, falls down, and gives up a 5-yard sack on Matt Ryan. On the very next play, Blalock is flagged for a false start penalty. That possession would end in a punt, and it was an ugly series for Blalock. Otherwise he had a solid, albeit unspectacular, day.
I have to say, the Falcons offensive line stepped up and answered a lot of questions against the Giants. Not only did they perform well against the much-lauded New York offensive line, but they made it look pretty easy. I was particularly surprised and please with the play of OTs Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo against the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. It seems like the Falcons o-line plays better against great competition, and Sunday against New York was no different.