The difference between the Atlanta Falcons getting back to playoff form and another dismal season is the offensive line. I could throw the defense in the mix, but I have so little faith in that unit that I expect the Falcons to have to simply out score everyone they play. There will be no great defensive efforts from this group on a regular basis. The team is counting on the offense to produce points in a flurry and in a hurry each week. They have the weapons to pile up Broncos-like numbers. The question is all about the offensive line.
Matt Ryan is as good as any quarterback in the NFL. I know fantasy gurus and big headed TV talkers don’t give him quite that much credit, but I will do so. The man is clutch. He is a great leader and he makes all the big throws a coach can ask of his field general. But he can’t do anything spectacular if he is getting bounced all over the soon to be demolished Georgia Dome turf. Last year he was absolutely ambushed by defenses. His o-line was impotent when it came to protecting the franchise QB. They let defenders have their way with Mat Ryan last season, giving up 44 sacks. Contrast that with the mere 18 sacks on Peyton Manning and you can see the difference in the two’s numbers in 2013. Leave Matt Ryan upright most of the game and he will destroy a defense with his trio of great wideouts. Maybe Roddy Whiteneeds to be in offensive line meetings to keep them in check. White is a very funny football comedian, but the o-line might tire of his act, so that might be a bad idea actually.
This o-line is not shaping up to be a great run blocking unit. That is a big concern….about as big a concern as Steven Jackson‘s health. All this adds up to the Falcons being a pass first team in my eyes. They do have some hope in rookie tailback, Devonta Freeman, but look for passes galore in this 2014 version of the Dirty Birds. Falcons fans will have to look past the ineffectiveness of the running game if that ends up being the reality. A great passing game is the only way Atlanta will be back on top of the NFC. Of course they need to run the ball to keep the defense on its toes, but the bread and butter is hinging on Matt Ryan and the receiving corps. The o-line will be the x-factor in this offensive equation.
If you watched any of “Hard Knocks”, you know the Atlanta coaches’ big theme was being tougher. It will take a nasty offensive line to keep Matt Ryan pressure free all season long. If the toughness theme really got through to the big guys up front, it will show. They should have some after the play penalties early on in the year to set the tone. Mike Smith doesn’t want any dumb penalties, but I have a feeling he will let a couple slide to prove a point to the rest of the league. They will get their first chance to test that toughness against New Orleans in the opener. The Saints are a big reason for the toughness theme being an issue. We will see if the o-line lets a Saints defender put their hands on Matt Ryan after the play this year with no repercussions. I am betting that does not happen. If Mike Tice or Bryan Cox has to run in from the sideline like a pro wrestler from outside the ring, something will be done to send a message.