Atlanta Falcons: State Of The Offensive Line


The play of the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line has been nothing short of abysmal the last two seasons, and has certainly contributed to the disastrous 10-22 record. A combination of poor player evaluation by the coaching staff, poor talent evaluation by the scouting department and player injuries have all been a factor in the unit’s incompetence.

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It all began with the 2012 draft where the Falcons drafted Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes with their first two picks. Both players were expected to fill in as future starters but both have been nothing but big disappointments. In 2013, the coaching staff felt these men were ready to start so parted with veterans Todd McClure and Tyson Clabo in the offseason. They also decided to re-sign the injurious Sam Baker who had a solid 2012 campaign but truthfully, that was the only solid season in his career. Finally, they felt like they had good competition with in-house youngsters for the starting RG position.

However, it turned out the Falcons went 0/4 in key personnel decisions along the offensive line. The play of the 2013 Falcons’ offensive line is as poor as it gets, unable to be useful in the pass or run game.

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The Falcons made a valiant effort to right the ship in 2014. They drafted Jake Matthews #6 overall and finally stabilised their RG position signing Jon Asamoah in free agency. The line wasn’t good even on paper but it was still a big step in the right direction. It was always going to be unrealistic to go from horrific to good in one offseason.

Sam Baker was expected to start at LT and hopefully regain his 2012 form but a torn patellar tendon in preseason forced the Falcons’ hand and prompted the Jake Matthews LT era. As the 6th overall pick, anything less than a franchise LT would be considered unsatisfactory. Veteran Justin Blalock remained as the starting LG and has largely been the one stabilising presence on the offensive line over the years.

After Joe Hawley was forced into action as the starting center in the second half of the 2013 season, he himself also added stability to the group and found himself as the favourite for the starting position heading into 2014 training camp. Asamoah was expected to slide in seamlessly at RG while Holmes was expected to show improvement at RT.

So how did they do?

Jake Matthews finished dead last in ProFootballFocus’ OT rankings. It is worth mentioning, though, that he played with injuries for much of the season and his week-by-week grades reflect that.

From what I saw of Matthews, I fully believe he will be the franchise LT.

After suffering an

ankle sprain

during the New Orleans thriller in week 1, he missed week 2 against Cincinnati. He returned to have solid games in weeks 3 and 4 but had his

ankle rolled up

on during the week 5 game against the Giants and seemingly badly aggravated his injury.

He was clearly very hampered from here until he got some much needed recovery time during the bye (week 9) and that is reflected in the grades. It was this 4-week stretch representing the bulk of his negative grade. He performed much better after the bye until the end of the season. In the final game of the season he unfortunately suffered a Lisfranc fracture also, never getting close to 100% healthy.

I don’t consider myself an optimist but from what I saw of Matthews, I fully believe he will be the franchise LT. Even outside of that 4-week stretch, he still graded negatively with a -0.7 average per game but for the first time ever I saw a Falcons LT that doesn’t consistently get overwhelmed on passing downs. I mentioned Baker having a solid 2012 season but you’d see him just barely hanging on or fighting for his life on them obvious passing downs. That was not the case with Matthews who was calm, composed and in control.

Justin Blalock was as dependable as ever but he had started to incur injuries after being relatively healthy in his career. He also had a miserable season closer. Having turned 31, it was perhaps a wise decision the Falcons did end up parting ways because the 4 signs of decline were all there – Age, injury, performance drop, non-ideal scheme fit.

Joe Hawley only lasted 4 games but the stability he provided was noticeable compared to his backups. How he recovers from his ACL tear will play an important part in the unit’s success for 2015.

Nov 9, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons guard Jon Asamoah (75) blocks Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) as he rushes during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah was a rock. It’s always tough to play as a lineman when a teammate on your shoulder isn’t doing so well but it didn’t seem to faze him. He will continue to be the best offensive lineman heading into 2015.

Lamar Holmes looked a little better from the year prior but still had his struggles against Cameron Jordan and had a brutal game against the underrated Carlos Dunlap before losing his season to a foot injury after 4 games.

The real intrigue at RT is the emergence of Ryan Schraeder, who played a lot better than Holmes and the first backup Gabe Carimi.

In fact, he played well full stop. Charles Johnson gave him problems in both Carolina games but otherwise he did a nice job holding down everyone else. It’s always great when a young in-house player can lockdown a position for you and it’s what Falcons nation hopes for from Schraeder.

Projected starting offensive line

Jake Matthews-Chris Chester-Joe Hawley-Jon Asamoah-Ryan Schraeder

Chris Chester is the new name here, having recently been signed after the Washington Redskins released him as they shift from a zone scheme towards a more gap blocking scheme. I wouldn’t call him a liability but don’t expect an Asamoah-like level of play.

He should be OK, maybe a little below average. Hawley and Matthews need to return healthy and Schraeder needs to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. I don’t have the slightest of worries about Asamoah. If everyone can play up to their ability, this is a good group. They’re thin on talent so any injuries will be heartfelt.

These men fit the zone blocking scheme well, and the emphasis on the run game coupled with play action and bootlegs helps out the pass protection. Just through scheme alone, the offensive line will be a lot more productive in terms of pressure given up. The real challenge will be how they can do on 3rd downs when the smoke and mirrors disappear. However, I see this as an offensive line capable of being in the 10-16th range rather than the 27-32nd range we’ve been seeing lately and that would be an outstanding achievement.

Next: 5 Reasons The Falcons Will Miss Playoffs

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