Atlanta Falcons Offensive Line: Better than you think


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Falcon fans.

At some point in the 2nd half during the the Week 17 game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, I tweeted out (@jrniemeyer) that I would write a 1,000 word article on the Falcons offensive line if Matt Ryan stayed upright the rest of the game. Sure enough, the line held and Matt Ryan wasn’t sacked during the season saving win and here I am fulfilling my promise. So, I started my research.

Researched each player on the line and the mastermind behind it, Mike Tice.  The more I looked into it, the more I wanted to write about it. The more I wanted get their success story out. But before we can talk about their recent success, we have to go back to the beginning.

I’ve been in a few car accidents in my life and they are certainly not enjoyable. Beyond the obvious damage to the car, I was often physically sore for days after the incident. I would often find myself at the doctors office or a chiropractor to get everything back to normal. It was typically a week long process before I started to feel right. I never played high school or college football so I can’t identify with how a sack feels, but if it feels anything like getting run over at home plate, it’s a brutal hit. With that being said, I wasn’t run over by a grown man whose job it is to knock me out of commission.

To be hit that hard even one time, must feel like a car accident. Now, imagine being Matt Ryan after week 6 and 7 against the Bears and Ravens, respectively. Ryan was sacked 9 times during those two games, and I honestly don’t know how he rolled out of bed on Monday morning. The hits were brutal and often. Elvis Dumervil got him twice and Terrell Suggs lit him up once in the end-zone for a safety. The offensive line for the Atlanta Falcons was mess.

Mike Tice had his hands full of a bunch of misfits and greenhorns at almost every position. Atlanta has lost five offensive lineman for the season, and currently, the team has an undrafted rookie giving the ball to Ryan at the center position. Tice also has a rookie guarding Ryan’s blind side and a second-year undrafted tackle on his right side. The bye week (Week 9) couldn’t come soon enough, but then, a funny thing happened.

The same group of lineman played a few games together and Matt Ryan stayed upright. He wasn’t sacked against the Lions in week 8 (don’t get me started on that game) and was only sacked once against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the bye week. Mike Tice was finally able to sink his teeth into the same group of guys for more than a week at a time.

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The Falcons have had the same offensive line for 7 out of the last 8 games and it’s clear they are starting to gel. Ryan has stayed upright and has been able to get the ball down field to his main target, Julio Jones. Matt Ryan has thrown for over 300 yards the last 4 games, while only being sacked twice in that same span. Steven Jackson even saw a small resurgence before getting hurt in week 16. He ran for over 100 yards for the first time in almost two years vs. the Cardinals in week 13.  Chemistry on the offensive line is imperative and when you have Mike Tice leading them, good things will happen.

Mike Tice is a proven commodity. He’s been an NFL Coach for almost 20 years with six of those years coming as an offensive line coach. All Mike Tice needs in order to succeed is time and unity. The Falcons have one final test left in the regular season, and if they want to continue on into the playoffs, they will need to continue their run of good play.

Jake Matthews, Justin Blalock, James Stone, Jon Asamoah, and Ryan Schraeder may never make a Pro Bowl roster (though it seems fairly likely for the 2014 first round pick in Matthews), and I think if you asked them about failing to become “household names”, they’d be ok with that.  Make no mistake though, if the Atlanta Falcons go on to win the NFC South, the offensive line will be a big reason for it.  I’m not sure if the Falcons have enough talent on the defensive side of the ball to do any damage in the playoffs (if they win on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers), but the talent is there on offense and it all starts up front.

I said a few days ago that I wasn’t sure if they gave out an award for offensive line coaches (fairly sure they don’t) but if they did, Mike Tice should win it hands down. There isn’t another coach that has had to deal with as many injuries or adversity as Mike Tice. At one point this season, the Falcons had to move TE Levine Toilolo to a tackle spot because they simply ran out of offensive lineman. Let me put this another way. Matt Ryan has only been sacked twice in the past four games and yet at one point this season they had a tight end on the offensive line!

The Mike Tice as a head coach experiment has come and gone, but as an offensive line coach, there are few better. He has managed to turn a bunch of greenhorn misfits into the reason that the Atlanta Falcons have a chance to reach the playoffs, and into the reason that Matt Ryan stands tall and able to get the ball to his playmakers. I don’t know what Mike Tice has planned for week 17 and the Panthers, but you can bet all the players will be on the same page. Carolina ranks near the bottom third in defensive sacks but it only takes one hit to change the game. It’ll be up to Mike Tice and the Atlanta Falcons offensive line to direct traffic for Matt Ryan as they continue their march towards January football, and now, we can take solace in this group.