The Falcons’ loss to the Panthers this past weekend was a dose of reality for Atlanta fans. A reality that this team is still extremely far from being a playoff-caliber roster. Even though the team has improved incrementally throughout the first part of the season, Carolina reminded everyone in the building that Terry Fontenot still needs to bolster the trenches.
There is no question who the weak link of the offensive line was on Sunday and will continue to be. His struggles in pass protection are concerning, to say the least. Rookie Jalen Mayfield graded a 45.4 PFF grade, which is higher than his season grade of 38.8, but his pass blocking grade was an abysmal 27.8 against the interior defenders of Carolina. Mayfield’s 38.8 grade for the season ranks him the 73rd out of 74 eligible guards in the NFL.
Opposite of Mayfield, even the ever consistent Chris Lindstrom struggled, posting a 47.5 pass block grade. The group’s stalwart, Jake Matthews, graded a season-low 48.7, including a 34.0 pass block grade. Matt Hennessy did grade out higher than he ever has in pass sets, earning a 72.1 pass block grade. Hennessy is improving each week, but it isn’t his run blocking that concerns me; it is his pass sets, so this is a positive sign.
Kaleb McGary didn’t have a horrible game, but he did struggle mightily in spots. He returned from missing the Dolphins game last week by posting his highest grade of the season — 70.3 overall and a 71.0 pass block grade. Even though these were the best PFF grades of the season for him, McGary did still look lost at times against Carolina’s edge defenders.
Even head coach Arthur Smith knows his team has to improve in the trenches. “You’ve got to give Carolina credit,” he said after the game. “They beat us on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football…”
There weren’t any questions of what the Panthers were trying to do, rushing the ball 40 times.
“They came in there, there were no secrets. They beat us on both sides of the line of scrimmage. We better fix it in a hurry, because we’re going down to a hornets nest in New Orleans. I could probably take a good educated guess what their game plan is going to be.”
The Falcons have to get their assignments and technique in order because the Saints can push any team in the league around in the trenches. Their offensive line is solidified with proven veterans, and their defensive front is as fierce as ever.