In the largest victory in the history of Thursday Night Football, with the Falcons scoring their second highest point total in franchise history, it makes sense to highlight the play of the team’s stars. Julio Jones put in a dominant performance, and has shown no sign of slowing down after a foot injury denied him a potential record breaking 2013. Matt Ryan set the franchise record for highest completion percentage in Falcons history, going 21/24 with 3 TDs. Devin Hester returned his 20th career touchdown, breaking the all-time record for most return TDs and taking the title from Falcons legend Deion Sanders. The defense finally recorded not only their first, but second and third sacks of the season. The Falcons scored 56 unanswered points. However, despite all the praise and accolades, there were a lot of players that put in some extremely fine performances who haven’t been recognised. Fullback Patrick DiMarco is one such man.
“DiMarco had perhaps his best game as a Falcon on Thursday, both as a lead blocker and a catch and run threat.”
As NFL offenses have moved away from smash mouth running football and into an era of elite quarterbacks and 5000 yard passing seasons, the role of the fullback has somewhat diminished. Most teams still carry a designated fullback, but their offensive role has decreased to predominantly lead blocking and the occasional short yardage run. The Green Bay Packers have had success carving out a clear role for FB John Kuhn who, much to the dismay of fantasy owners, is well known for his prowess around the goal-line. Similarly, the Atlanta Falcons are a team that have utilised the fullback more heavily than most in the Mike Smith era. From the long term success of Ovie Mughelli, to the 2012 5th round selection of now Jaguar Bradie Ewing, to the incorporation of Patrick DiMarco into Dirk Koetter’s spread offense, the Falcons are bucking the trend when it comes to the importance of fullbacks. DiMarco had perhaps his best game as a Falcon on Thursday, both as a lead blocker and a catch and run threat.
The fourth year fullback out of South Carolina made a big impact on the game during the Falcons first possession. After running a flat route on the opening play and blocking on the weak side for Steven Jackson’s first carry, the third play sees DiMarco lined up in the middle of an I formation. This time, on 2nd and 6, the Falcons went with a play action pass. DiMarco locates Tampa Bay linebacker John Casillas, runs as though he is setting a block for Jackson, and engages at the line of scrimmage. As Matt Ryan comes out of the play action and stares at Harry Douglas running a skinny-post, DiMarco manhandles Casillas and pushes him back 5 yards, completely breaking the coverage of the right sideline.
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The strength with which DiMarco dispatches Casillas is truly impressive for a fullback setting up a route and, combined with Ryan looking off the Buccaneers defense, results in DiMarco being wide open for a checkdown. Not done there, DiMarco jukes a cornerback before being brought down by several Bucs for a gain of 16 yards. This play demonstrates the versatility of the fullback, as he has three different roles in the first three plays of the game, all from the same formation. For the rest of the game, the defense must now be accountable for two receivers, a tight end, a running back and DiMarco when the Falcons come out in the I formation.
DiMarco also showed excellent blocking ability on several big gains for the Falcons. Firstly, at the 5:04 mark of the 1st quarter, RB Steven Jackson receives the handoff on a weak side stretch. DiMarco has complete responsibility to seal the edge, and does so in an effective way, allowing Jackson to turn the corner and pick up 7 yards, inside the Buccaneers 10 yard line. DiMarco was again vital on Devin Hester’s 20 yard rushing TD, showing impressive speed for a big man. While the reverse was being set up, DiMarco pushed downfield, turning the corner just as Hester was handed the ball. Despite running a 4.91 40 yard dash at his pro day, DiMarco stayed well ahead of the fastest man on the field and engaged Tampa Bay’s safety at the 5 yard line. From there, Hester had a clear path to the endzone, and he rewards the excellent blocking with his first career rushing TD. Finally, DiMarco’s ability to seal the edge was crucial to RB Antone Smith’s 38 yard score, as he engaged LB Danny Lansanah at the point of attack and chipped him into the ground. The commentators were quick to applaud the blocking efforts of C Peter Konz, but Patrick DiMarco again showed he can be relied upon to lead the way for the Falcons committee of running backs, which will be crucial in improving the Falcons last ranked rushing attack from last season.
There are plenty of reasons for Falcons fans to be happy about the team’s performance on Thursday night. However, while we’re pointing out how well the offense is clicking or lauding the explosiveness of our young defensive line rotation, let’s be sure to give some love to Patrick DiMarco for his underrated but impressive performance.