Falcons allow fewest QB hits in Week 1

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The Falcons lost in the most Falcons way Sunday against the division rival Saints. After leading by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter, Atlanta squandered the lead away following multiple impressive drives from Jameis Winston and the New Orleans offense. For much of the game, though, the Falcons looked great against a formidable opponent — one many expect to make the playoffs. Perhaps the most impressive facet of the team in Week 1 was one that has long plagued the Falcons, the offensive line — more specifically, pass protection.

The Falcons boasted one of the worst lines in football last season, surrendering 40 sacks in 2021. Three of their five starters were some of the worst pass protectors in the league. Jalen Mayfield was the very worst in pass sets, Matt Hennessy was the sixth-worst, and Kaleb McGary rounded out the group as the ninth-worst lineman in pass protection last season. That’s three starters in the bottom ten.

The front office did add to the position, selecting Justin Shaffer in the sixth round while signing Elijah Wilkinson and Germain Ifedi in free agency. The group features two new starters as Drew Dalman took over at center and Wilkinson assumed the starting left guard position. And it’s already paying substantial dividends.

Arthur Smith utilized the mobility of Marcus Mariota to neutralize the Saints’ pass rush, which he didn’t really have the ability to do with Matt Ryan. The Falcons’ use of Mariota’s mobility added another dynamic element to Smith’s offense. Considering how poor Atlanta’s offensive line was at protecting the passer, the ability to play off-script will be vital for any success in 2022, which we saw in Week 1 against New Orleans.

The Falcons’ offense looked more similar to those in Tennessee under Smith — zone rushing attack with play action rollouts built off the run. With Mariota in Atlanta, the Falcons focused on getting their passer out of the pocket. It also gave Smith the ability in short-yardage situations to use the quarterback as an additional runner, something he did sparingly last season with the far less mobile Ryan.

The offensive line was impressive against an incredibly talented Saints defensive front, mostly holding Cam Jordan and company in check. The offensive line deserves credit, but it was the collective effort of Smith’s play calling and scheme, Mariota’s mobility, and the line’s impressive play that netted only one hit on the quarterback and no sacks.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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