September 23, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones (11) celebrates with offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds (75) after a touchdown during second first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
The Atlanta Falcons are playing really well on both sides of the ball, and while the defense has been given a boat load of credit that is more easily quantifiable, the offensive line has no formal statistics attached to it. There are no stats for great blocks, no stats for great pass protection, no stats for much of anything. Linemen are only recognized if they A) successfully block DeMarcus Ware or Clay Matthews or B) give up huge sacks. Its a rough life for the offensive lineman.
But I’m here to give the offensive line of the Atlanta Falcons some credit. The Falcons offensive line has only given up fours sacks through the first three games of the season. The only teams with fewer sacks are the Bills, Titans, Jets, Dolphins, Texans, Raiders and Lions. With the exception of the Lions, all of those teams run the ball a heck of a lot more and more effectively than the Falcons, so not only have there been fewer opportunities for those teams to give up sacks, but the run keeps pass rushers off the quarterback. It says a lot about the Falcons to throw the ball as frequently as they have, and still keep Matt Ryan extremely clean.
It says even more about the teams that the Falcons have faced. Kansas City was missing major components in their pass rush and defense, so we can throw that game out, but the Falcons did an outstanding game of protecting Ryan then. But the Broncos and Chargers boast excellent pass rushes, good front sevens, and even good players in the secondary. Against the Chargers five man rotation of monster OLB pass rushers, the Falcons only surrendered two sacks. Against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, both Pro-Bowlers and Miller being the reigning defensive rookie of the year, Atlanta only gave up one sack, and that happened near the close of the game.
The biggest reason the Falcons offensive line is playing so well is because left tackle Sam Baker, who was a huge liability last season, is playing extraordinarily well. He surrendered one sack against the Chargers on a great inside move by the OLB who was playing with a hand in the ground at DE on the play. When the rusher Clabo was facing forced Ryan to step up into the pocket, the rusher Baker was blocking was waiting to take Ryan down. Baker did give up the sack, but aside from that play, he was outstanding once again, looking like the player the Falcons drafted him to be.
Tyson Clabo is still playing as strong as ever. So is Justin Blalock. As is the ageless wonder Todd McClure. Even Garrett Reynolds is playing so well that I haven’t even heard his name called once this season for giving up a pressure. Unless you’re a Pro-bowl player, the worst thing for an offensive lineman is for attention to be paid to you. We aren’t paying attention to any of the linemen, and thats allows us to focus on the fun part of football: making things happen offensively.
The ringleader of this offensive line renaissance is new line coach Pat Hill, the former head coach at Fresno State. He is doing one heck of a job. I’m no expert. I have no inside knowledge of what’s going on during the Falcons practice sessions. I haven’t been there. What I do know, is that the venerated Mr. Hill is doing things technique wise that is helping the line as a unit, and Sam Baker in particular. The pass protection is nothing short of awesome, and it deserves recognition. Mr. Hill has done a fabulous job so far.
Now, not all credit rests on the line’s shoulders. Some needs to go to the play calling for calling more screen plays, more draws, an effective run game, and very effective play-action off the run. A good bit also rests on Matt Ryan’s shoulders for audibling to a play which maximizes the offense’s potential against the defense, as well as being decisive and getting rid of the ball quickly to not allow the pass rush to ever get to him. Those things both help keep the rush on its heels, and allows both the pass and the run to be more effective.
However, the offensive line deserves immense credit. Without their outstanding play, this season could have started much differently. With their great play, Ryan is looking like an MVP candidate and offensive star, and the Falcons are off to a 3-0 start. Pretty good for an o-line unit we were all stressing about in the pre-season.