After an entire offseason preaching about dominant offensive line play, Arthur Smith’s notion, “Obviously, we’re going to go as the line goes,” rang true in the team’s season opener. The driver of success in Tennessee and failure in Atlanta the past couple of seasons was offensive line play, which will continue to be in 2021.
Matt Ryan has been sacked 42, 48, and 41 times, respectively, over the past three seasons. He faced 174 pressures in 2019 (28th in the league) and 167 pressures in 2020 (24th in the league). This can all be attributed to poor offensive line play, poor scheming, and Ryan potentially holding the ball too long. In Week 1 against an imposing Eagles front four, Matt Hennessy, Kaleb McGary, and Jalen Mayfield were abused in passing situations.
The Eagles defensive front whipped those three linemen’s asses — 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. The Falcons’ long-standing flaw of not being able to protect Matt Ryan has not been resolved with the regime change, but that isn’t the only persistent weakness the team hasn’t been able to overcome with the coaching change — rushing the passer.
The Falcons’ defensive front was as disappointing as the offense, but why should you be surprised. Atlanta has long needed difference-makers in the trenches next to Grady Jarrett. Unable to stop the run or rush the passer has long plagued Falcons defenses the past several years. Those issues weren’t solved in Week 1 with Dean Pees at the helm; in fact, they may have gotten worse.
I want to preface these jaw-dropping stats by saying that the Eagles offensive line is easily a top ten unit when healthy. Still, a league-high 3.39 yards rushing before contact is completely unacceptable. It wasn’t just dominance in the run game either as the Falcons were unable to pressure Jalen Hurts all day — four of the five starting offensive linemen for the Eagles finished with a pass-block grade above 75.
The Falcons long-standing problems of not protecting their quarterback and not pressuring opposing quarterbacks won’t be fixed in one offseason, but the Week 1 performance in the trenches was truly discouraging to see. Hopefully, the offensive and defensive lines come out with a bit more fire against the Bucs.