Coming into this season, the Atlanta Falcons expected their offensive and defensive lines to be much improved from last season. After allowing Matt Ryan to get sacked six times and recorded zero sacks on Jameis Winston, both lines are leaving much to be desired.
During the offseason, the Atlanta Falcons dedicated a lot of time and money to improving the offensive line. The Falcons used two first-round draft picks that were used to bring in Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Even before the draft, the Falcons signed two offensive linemen, Jamon Brown and James Carpenter, to add the depth that has been missing from this roster in recent seasons. After dealing with injuries from Lindstrom, McGary, and Brown at different points of the season, the Falcons offensive line has been more of an issue than a solution this season.
Coming into Sunday’s game with the Bucs, the Falcons offensive line began to get in a groove as a unit. In the two previous wins, the Falcons allowed four sacks in the two games, with the Saints and Panthers both having very good defenses. Yesterday, in the Bucs game, the Falcons gave up six sacks and thirteen QB hits. From the beginning of the game, Matt Ryan was running for his life all day.
Similarly, to the offensive line, the defensive line has struggled this season. Just like the offensive line in the two wins, the defensive line thrived in the wins, recording 11 sacks in the two games. It was a surprise, considering the Falcons had recorded only seven sacks in the previous 8 games. The lack of production from the defensive line was one of the main causes of the Falcons dismal 1-7 start. If it wasn’t for the two games where the Falcons recorded 11 sacks, the Falcons would rank at the very bottom of the NFL in sacks this season. Because of the 11 sacks added on, the Falcons only rank above Miami and Cincinnati in team sacks. A very grim indicator of how the season has gone.
After having two uncharacteristically fantastic weeks, the thought around this team was that the defensive line had finally figured out the issue and was now playing up their standards. Underachievers Vic Beasley Jr. and Takk McKinley were starting to show signs of life after coasting through the first 8 weeks with little to no production. However, that thinking was quickly walked back after the Falcons defense recorded no sacks and just one QB hit against the Bucs in their loss.
Coming into the season, the Falcons knew the defensive line would, likely, lack in production. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were counting on Beasley to have a bounceback season, or at least show signs of the greatness he displayed in the 2016 season. Similar hopes were placed on McKinley, who was still looking for his first breakout, big-time season since being drafted in the first round by the Falcons. Both players having another underwhelming season has been a direct cause for the Falcons having another lackluster season from their front four.
The defensive line will be addressed this offseason, hopefully. Beasley will move on and reinforcements will be brought in through the draft or free agency. Whatever happens this offseason, the defensive line should be the number one priority, other than finding a new head coach, going into the offseason.
The number one priority last offseason, the offensive line, has been troubling this season. Matt Ryan is still being pushed around far too often when he’s back to pass. Some of the blame can be placed on the injuries of Lindstrom and the shuffling of offensive lineman throughout the season. With Alex Mack nearing retirement, the Falcons are going to have to pray these two young offensive linemen can develop into a formidable force soon. With so many resources used this offseason, it’s okay to expect the protection of Matt Ryan to be better than it has this season. Ryan has been hit 87 times this season! With five games remaining this season, Ryan has a chance to surpass the 108 QB hits from last season. That’s not great.
The Atlanta Falcons season has been a mess from the beginning, partly due to the spotty play from both sides of the lines. The Falcons will continue to struggle, this season and next, if they continue to get zero pressure on the opposing QB while the defense is teeing off on Matt Ryan. Until the Falcons can find a way to improve these lines, success will continue to elude this franchise.