November 13, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers offensive guard Mike Iupati (77) stands next to center Jonathan Goodwin (59) against the New York Giants in the second quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Giants 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
While watching the San Francisco 49ers play the Seattle Seahawks last night, I couldn’t help but notice the size and strength of both offensive lines. The 49ers line was extremely strong, and we all know how physical they have played the last two seasons. But Seattle has a young and improving line that is also extremely physical especially on the left side. I figured I would see where and when these two teams drafted these players to make such good lines.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock beat me to the punch. He announced that the 49ers had three first round draft picks on their offensive line (LT, LG, RT), and the Seahawks have first rounders at left tackle and left guard. All of a sudden things were beginning to make sense as to why these lines are so big, strong, and productive.
All of these picks, by the way, have been drafted since 2007. And the 49ers and Seahawks haven’t only invested first round picks in offensive linemen. They have also invested those picks in defensive linemen as well.
As a matter of fact, these two teams have rarely invested first round picks in positions other than linemen. San Francisco has used two first rounders on receivers (they’ve had 8 first round picks the past 6 years), and Seattle has only drafted a non-lineman (linebacker Aaron Curry) once.
This stands as testament to the tremendous commitment to being strong up front on both sides of the ball and desire to play a tough, physical style of football. While the skill position talent is at least less significant than some teams, they are certainly more effective because they have better blocking, and better play up front. It’s simply getting back to the basics of football and really punching the opposition in the face.
I think perhaps the Falcons could take note of this. What are the two areas where the Falcons struggle the very most? Offensive line play, and defensive line play. The Falcons are neither particularly productive at pass protecting nor run blocking. And the defensive line is very poor at rushing the passer as well as defending the run.
Atlanta could stand to get stronger on both lines. Sam Baker is finally playing well, Justin Blalock is solid as a rock. But Todd McClure is nearing the end of his career, and Garrett Reynolds isn’t a great player either. Tyson Clabo isn’t playing very well this season. The offensive line could have a completely revamped look with the addition of a mauling offensive guard who could be acquired with the Falcons 2013 first round pick.
The same sort of thing goes for the defensive line. John Abraham is dominant still, but he isn’t going to play forever. There’s no dominant defensive end opposite him, and the defensive tackle position has some solid young talent but could be losing its best player Jonathan Babineaux, in the next several season.
The fact of the matter is that the Falcons also have an abundance of skill position talent on both sides of the ball. The receiving corps is outstanding and young. They have a franchise quarterback just entering his prime. The linebacking corps has two outstanding players, and Atlanta also has two young safeties with outstanding talent.
Sure the cornerbacks aren’t real young, and we could use some additional youth at running back and tight end to hold us through for the future. But nothing in the world fixes problems in the defensive secondary or for the running back situation of a team but great play up front.
The Falcons need to invest their very first picks in the next couple seasons to developing the offensive and defensive lines. As simple as that. The Falcons seem to have become a very finesse team both offensively and defensively, and when you’re getting hit in the mouth and not doing the hitting, everything hurts a whole lot worse because it’s unlikely you’re winning ballgames. The Falcons offensive line rarely pushed the opposition back. That has to change. The defensive line has to do a better job of getting off of blocks and penetrating the backfield. They haven’t been doing that either.
It’s critical that the Falcons take a page out of the 49er and Seahawks books and draft personnel for the offensive line and defensive line. The future of this team depends on it.