If there’s anything the Falcons and the rest of the NFL can take away from the Buccaneers’ stunning blowout of the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 — despite all the talk about the importance of the quarterback position — the offensive line still matters more. Conversely, so does a defense’s ability to rush the passer.
Kansas City didn’t lose 31-9 because Patrick Mahomes was out-played by Tom Brady; they lost because their injury-riddled offensive line had no shot against the Buccaneers’ dominant front four. Mahomes played behind a unit that was missing three starters; Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, and Kelechi Osemele. The dominos fell one-by-one throughout the season, and it eventually became too much to overcome — even for the best offense in football.
Anybody who watched the Super Bowl saw how the Chiefs couldn’t block Tampa’s front four. Mahomes dropped back 56 times and was pressured on 29 of those. More impressively, 27 of them came against a pass-rush of four or fewer Buccaneers, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That broke Jim Kelly‘s record for the most pressures faced (25) in a Super Bowl, but that wasn’t the only record broken last night.
Brady broke his own record, or should I say the Tampa Bay offensive line broke Brady’s record, of the least amount of pressures faced in a Super Bowl. He was pressured on just four of 30 dropbacks, which is the lowest of any Super Bowl Brady’s played in. All of this points to Tampa having invested heavily into their defensive and offensive lines, resulting in their franchise’s second championship.
The Bucs feature one of the best center and guard trios in the league. Donovan Smith is a premier left tackle, and rookie Tristan Wirfs played exceptionally well all year. On the other side of the ball, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, and edge rushers Shaquille Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul were all pivotal pieces of this unexpected Super Bowl run. Whether they acquired the talent through the draft — Wirfs, Devin White, Vita Vea — or through free agency — Suh, JPP, Barrett –, the Buccaneers were never satisfied with their trenches and continued to bolster.
The Falcons have a long way to go, and for those who keep saying to take Ryan’s successor in the first round, that’s not the quickest way to a Super Bowl. Atlanta needs to continue to draft on the offensive line, but they must upgrade their defensive line even more so. It isn’t just about drafting, either, where JPP and Shaq Barrett turned into A+ free agent signings; Dante Fowler has been an F through one year of his contract. The Falcons must acquire two starters on the defensive line next to Grady Jarrett and opposite of Fowler. But they need depth pieces behind them, too. As I said, the Falcons have a long way to go.
The offensive line isn’t in as abysmal of shape as the defensive line, but it could still use some upgrades. The Falcons can’t be satisfied with average play, at best, which is all that Kaleb McGary and Matt Hennessey have shown. They are both still young and could eventually develop into quality starters, but until then, Terry Fontenot will have to draft with the anticipation that they won’t because he didn’t bring them in. Taking Penei Sewell with the fourth overall pick could be the first step to fortifying the offensive line, but even then, it shouldn’t stop there. It looks like Alex Mack is unlikely to return, and Fontenot should ensure that the center position patched up, whether it be by Hennessy or someone else.
The good news is the team is in a better situation than Twitter and the media would have you think, but the road to a championship has and always will be built through the trenches, and that is an area the Falcons have been sub-par in ever since they went to the Super Bowl four years ago.
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