The Falcons doubled-down on their offense in the offseason, ignoring many of their defensive warts. Money and top draft picks were spent on ensuring Matt Ryan would stay as clean as possible in 2019 and going forward. With the philosophy being – if Ryan and these weapons at the skill positions have time, it is going to be difficult to stop them from scoring 40 every week – just like it was in 2016.
Only two offensive linemen remain from the team that took the field in Houston for the Super Bowl. Alex Mack joined the Falcons that season and instantly became the undisputed leader of the line at the center position. The decision to acquire him is a primary reason as to why the Falcons saw such a monumental leap from 2015 to 2016. All of a sudden, Matt Ryan had time and a running game, which led to one of the greatest statistical offenses of all-time.
Mack has made the Pro-Bowl all three years since coming to Atlanta. He has twice graded out as elite, according to Pro Football Focus, and last year received a 77.8 rating, which is considered very good. Even going on 34, Mack is among the best centers in football with invaluable experience that cannot be replaced.
Jake Matthews is the other starter left from the 2016 squad. He recently inked a five-year extension with Atlanta last offseason worth $75 million. At times, Matthews underachieved for a player that was selected 6th overall, but he’s proven over the years that he is a franchise left tackle. As Matthews enters his prime, the Falcons know they can rely on him every year.
Then there are the question marks.
Thomas Dimitroff decided to rid of the remaining three starters from last season. Andy Levitre’s contract came to an end, and after back-to-back season-ending injuries, he chose to retire. Brandon Fusco was underwhelming in action then suffered a broken ankle that cost him the second half of the season. The Falcons opted to cut him in April. Then, there was Ryan Schraeder, who played well enough to earn a lucrative extension as the starting right tackle. But after a forgetful 2018, the Falcons opted to designate him a post-June 1st cut.
Of the three positions available, only one appears defined as we approach the first pre-season game. The Falcons spent the 14th overall pick on Chris Lindstrom – a guard out of Boston College. He was projected as a plug-and-play starter coming into the league, and so far the Falcons love him. Lindstrom has taken first-team reps in each practice at right guard, and by all accounts, he’s held his own admirably.
Here’s a video of him going toe-to-toe with veteran Jack Crawford:
Chris Lindstrom will never let a finger touch Matt Ryan pic.twitter.com/5Q7kEeJckv
— Barstool BC (@BarstoolBC) July 24, 2019
A lot of times it takes rookies at least a few practices to earn those first-team reps, but the Falcons have shown no hesitation in handing the starting job to Lindstrom. He will be the right guard to open the season, and Falcons fans should be thrilled.
At the other two spots, there will be competition. So far, reports suggest the reps have been split evenly at left guard between Jamon Brown and James Carpenter – both of who were brought in by the Falcons via free agency. This is a competition that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon and will likely be decided during the pre-season. The early favorite was James Carpenter, but after seeing a rep like this, it’s not difficult to guess why the starting left guard job is up for grabs.
First padded practice, first o-line/d-line of training camp. Here's a couple @GradyJarrett reps, beating James Carpenter with an inside move, then a good battle with rookie Chris Lindstrom. pic.twitter.com/8OVNfPGtru
— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) July 24, 2019
Grady Jarrett is a bonafide beast, but that is borderline embarrassing. Meanwhile, at the end of that clip, you will see Lindstrom once again holding his own – this time against a Pro-Bowl caliber defensive tackle.
The other position battle will take place at right tackle. As of now, Ty Sambrailo is working with the first-team. He signed a three-year extension with Atlanta after filling in well for Ryan Schraeder at the end of last season. Although, the Falcons moved back into the first round in this year’s draft to select Kaleb McGary, and he is the player they would ideally like to have starting.
Many draft experts viewed McGary as a project coming out of Washington, which is why he was expected to go in the third-round by some. So it is no guarantee he is starting week one, especially with a viable option like Sambrailo on the roster. The promising news is Dan Quinn and Dirk Koetter have a bevy of options to choose from across the offensive line, and competition will only make these guys better.
The 2019 Atlanta Falcons will go as their offensive line goes. If they can run the ball, and Matt Ryan has time to utilize his plethora of weapons, this could be the best offense in football. And when you can score 30+ every game – defense is overrated.