If you are looking for reasons why the Falcons offense hasn’t been the same since their historic 2016 performance, there are two — one is not fixable, and one is. Unfortunately, Atlanta is never getting Kyle Shanahan back, at least not for the foreseeable future. He just signed a contract extension with the 49ers as their head coach after reaching the Super Bowl. Dirk Koetter is never going to be as fantastic of an OC as Shanahan was — not with the Falcons personnel. However, Atlanta’s second issue, the offensive line, can be fixed, and Thomas Dimitroff has made it a priority over the last two offseasons.
For the past three seasons, the Falcons offensive line has gone downhill. A lot of that has to do with injuries and inadequate depth, but it also has to do with steady declining play. Following the 2018 season, Dimitroff decided to use two first-round draft picks on the offensive line. But in typical Falcons fashion, they both had issues with injury.
Right tackle Kaleb McGary’s problems began in the preseason, when his rare heart condition had to be treated, causing him to miss much of the offseason. He was able to start in all 16 games, but that lost time undoubtedly affected his performance, particularly early in the year. And it didn’t help that his partner in crime on the right side hit the IR after Week 1 of the season.
Last year’s 14th overall pick, Chris Lindstrom suffered a fractured foot against the Vikings in his first professional game, costing him the next eleven games of the season. He did return for the final four contests; however, and it’s no coincidence that the Falcons went 4-0, with the offense humming as it did throughout the 2016 season.
According to his teammates and coaches, Lindstrom is on track to be one of the best interior offensive linemen in the game and a player Matt Ryan is going to love as he ends his career. McGary had an up-and-down campaign, but with a full season of starts under his belt, there is hope that he can take a step forward in 2020. Considering Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are the other two-fifths of the offensive line, this bunch looks to have a promising core, with only one spot up for grabs, and there is a multitude of players hoping to fill it.
Jamon Brown and James Carpenter were the two free agents Thomas Dimitroff signed last offseason to multi-year deals. Neither of them proved to be worth that money in 2019, but they should push each other enough to complete the offensive line.
If not, the Falcons could turn to a former undrafted free agent, Matt Gono, who has impressed coaches since joining the team in 2018. Or Atlanta might rely on Matt Hennessy, their athletic 2020 third-round pick out of Temple. The expectation is for him to be the heir apparent to Alex Mack at center, but nobody will hold him back. If he’s ready to start as a rookie, the left guard job is his. The Falcons also signed veteran Justin McCray, who has experience starting across the line. He may not be the favorite to win the job, but this five-person competition should be enough to produce one worthy starter, and the rest can serve as quality backups.
For the first time in years, the Falcons will have a stable first unit and a noteworthy group of second-stringers too, possessing a lot of experience and athleticism. Injuries are bound to happen to every NFL team, but with a shortened offseason and the possibility of positive COVID-19 tests playing a role, depth is going to be more critical than ever. Many questions surround this Falcons team, and the offensive line is typically one of them, but that should not be the case this year. Matt Ryan might have the best line in front of him since the 2016 campaign, which will allow him to thrive with all the weapons around him.