Something every single person that watched the Falcons-Titans preseason game noticed was the porous offensive line play from Atlanta. I want to preface this by saying the NFL is in dire need of quality offensive linemen; it might be the most deficient position group across the league. With that being said, the Falcons are no exception. It was the preseason, so we must temper our expectations, especially when four of the Falcons five assumed starting offensive linemen weren’t playing — Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, Matt Hennessy, and Kaleb McGary.
The Falcons offense never got into a rhythm because of penalties but played sloppy regardless of the quarterback. A.J. McCarron and Feleipe Franks were both under duress the entire night and seemed to be pressured on an overwhelming percentage of snaps. Still, I have a few problems with the staff’s decision not to play some of the starters.
Hennessy is nowhere near above playing in the preseason. He has little to no experience as a starting center, but more importantly, the overall cohesiveness of an offensive line is only found through reps, which this group has none of this offseason as McGary has just returned to practice and the staff searches for the line’s left guard. This leads us to the point of this piece; this left guard competition is concerning.
Josh Andrews is exactly who we all thought he was — a reliable run blocker and a total liability in pass sets. It was almost satisfying watching his tape against the Titans because this staff cannot trot him out there with the starters against the Eagles in the opener. Still, the competition isn’t as fierce as once expected. Jalen Mayfield played tackle, but he struggled too, especially in pass sets.
I believe it should be the rookie if it were down to Andrews and Mayfield because the latter is superior in this mostly zone blocking scheme. They both struggle to protect the quarterback in passing situations, but with the upside of Mayfield, how could the coaching staff reason with Andrews starting and Mayfield backing up the tackles? Andrews has reached his ceiling and isn’t going to find the key that unlocks his effectiveness in pass blocking, while Mayfield hasn’t taken a regular-season snap yet.
However, there could be a downside to picking Mayfield. Essentially starting two rookies in Mayfield and Matt Hennessy on the interior of the line might be problematic. Hennessy basically had a redshirt season in 2020, and though he’s taken a step forward according to teammates and reports, he’ll still be playing in his first game as a team’s starting center.
Drew Dalman is gaining ground on Andrews as he’s been cross-training at both interior positions, but he started at center as Hennessy was rested for whatever reason. I fully expect the Falcons front office to be scouring the waivers in hopes a veteran guard falls in their laps. I wouldn’t be against this strategy to improve the line because the Falcons have one of the higher priorities for free agents on waivers after winning just four games a season ago. Terry Fontenot should bring in a more proven veteran to compete with Andrews, Dalman, and Mayfield.