September 23, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Sam Baker (72) before a game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE
It’s time to take a look back at the previous games performance, and how well/poorly the offensive line may have played. Here are my thoughts on the Falcons offensive line play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Pass protection was absolutely outstanding against the Bucs. It’s the one area where there can’t be any criticism whatsoever. The one sack that Matt Ryan had was far from the fault of the offensive line. For whatever reason, neither Matt Ryan nor the offensive line realized defensive back E.J. Biggers was going to blitz off the right side of the line, and he came in untouched and had a strip-sack of Ryan. The quarterback never saw him coming. It wasn’t like Clabo whiffed on the block; nobody was assigned to pick up Biggers. That has to be on Ryan, as he’s the one who has to realize where to slide the protection. But that was the only sack, and only hit on Ryan all day long. He was very well protected in the pocket, was afforded time to step up and deliver passes, and was rarely under any sort of duress when throwing. The only bad thing he did all day was throw an interception, and that’s completely on him. The offensive line really couldn’t have done a better job in pass protection. Perhaps it was because of Tampa’s 32nd ranked pass defense, but regardless, nobody touched Ryan other than that one play.
The one area where it struggled was in the run game. And they didn’t struggle in every aspect of the run game, but they struggled in opening holes for the running back between the tackles. I wrote about this earlier in the week, so as to not insult your intelligence, I’ll summarize what my other article said.
The Falcons interior offensive line, for whatever reason, aren’t opening holes, and whatever small holes they do open, the backs are unable to hit them. This is highlighted when Michael Turner is in the backfield, but it’s true when nearly every single back is lined up in the backfield. The job of interior offensive linemen is to overwhelm the defensive players in front of them or those that they are assigned to block. Left guard Justin Blalock has done a pretty good job of this all season long, and he’s a real strength in that interior line. But center Todd McClure (who is older than the hills and still playing at a high level) and right guard Peter Konz haven’t exactly been overwhelming the competition the way they need to to be successful. As a matter of fact, these two have actually been routinely getting overwhelmed and pushed around by defensive players when trying to run block. For whatever reason, they are unable to quickly put a block on the defender and/or maintain that block. As a result, they have given up penetration in the backfield that surrenders a run for no-gain or a loss, or they haven’t stayed on the block and allowed defenders to get back into the play. Either way, the interior offensive line isn’t getting the job done, and that has to change, because it’s making the run game very predictable. And when that is predictable, it can be defeated, making the entire offense one-dimensional, and much more easily defeated.
One thing I did notice against Tampa was the outstanding play of offensive tackles Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker getting blocks on the perimeter and getting a seal on the defense to open running lanes to the outside. Sam Baker cleared a nice alley for Michael Turner on his touchdown run, and it was nice to see that out of him because Baker hasn’t been hailed as a very physical run blocker. That was an outstanding play by him. You can also see the play of both Baker as well as Clabo on the first series of the game when Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers had many solid gains on outside runs, as well as Clabo’s perfectly executed cut-blocking to take defenders out of the play. Really good physical, consistent play out of the tackles, two linemen who really have to have that consistency week in and week out.
In short, the Falcons interior line has to play tougher as far as run blocking, and continue to be stout in pass protection. Also, Ryan and his line have to be on the same page on every snap in pass protection, because the Falcons can ill afford un-seen blitzers to smack the quarterback the way that Biggers did Ryan.