Falcons: The lack of talent in trenches was exposed in the season opener

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There were many mistakes from the Falcons season opener against the Eagles that can be chalked up as Week 1 shenanigans, like penalties and other mental errors. However, some clear deficiencies were exposed against Philadelphia. Nick Sirianni’s squad overpowered Arthur Smith’s team in the trenches throughout the entire game.

The Falcons’ offensive line looked overwhelmed, and the defensive line was outmatched. PFF highlights exactly where the differences became apparent: pressuring and protecting the quarterback.

The Falcons’ offensive line entered the year in questionable territory, ranking 24th in PFF’s Preseason OL rankings. After Week 1, the situation could be worse than expected. Atlanta allowed a 41% pressure rate and gave up three big sacks late in the fourth quarter.

Atlanta’s defense was expected to be among the worst in the NFL at getting after the quarterback, and the pass-rush unit confirmed that against Philly. Starters Grady JarrettDante Fowler Jr.Steven Means and Tyeler Davison all finished with sub-10% win rates for the game. The defensive line as a whole combined for eight total pass-rush wins, three times less than Philadelphia.

Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom had the best play out of the group. Matthews shut down Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett, earning an 80.9 pass-blocking grade, which was top ten among tackles. Chris Lindstrom handled his own on the inside against the likes of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, finishing with the fourth-highest offensive PFF grade on the team. Even though Matthews is the stalwart, Lindstrom is already a better player.

But it just gets unfathomable past those two; Matt Hennessy was serviceable in the run game but was atrocious in protecting Matt Ryan. There were multiple pass sets that ended with Hennessy in the quarterback’s lap, and things won’t get easier this week either against Vita Vea. Kaleb McGary, even though the Falcons had much of their success in the run game behind the right side of the offensive line, looked just as outmatched as Hennessy in pass protection.

The most notable of the group is rookie Jalen Mayfield, who was completely lost the entire game. What is even more infuriating was the offensive line sliding protection to the right side instead of the left, which is incomprehensible when you have Mayfield in that situation. The results showed; he was absolutely taken to school by veterans Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. PFF graded him lower than I have ever seen before — a 1.4(!!!!!) pass-blocking grade.

The Eagles defensive front feasted all game long — five different players finished with pass-rush win rates above 15%. Javon Hargrave and Hassan Ridgeway combined for eight sacks and QB hits, as well as 85 pass-rush grades. Even when he didn’t have time to throw, Jalen Hurts used his mobility to get out of trouble. However, that didn’t happen very often as four of the five starting offensive linemen for the Eagles finished with a pass-block grade above 75.

Things won’t get easier from here either. The Falcons’ offensive and defensive lines will have a more challenging task this week against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccanneers.

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