Frustration with Falcons' Offensive Line Not Limited to Fans

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons fans were frustrated by the offensive line's performance in week one, and they weren't the only ones.

Fans were certainly frustrated with the Falcons' offensive line following their performance against the New Orleans Saints in week one, and it appears that the frustration spilled over to Mike Smith, and other players on Atlanta's roster, as well.

According to Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Mike Smith was frustrated by the fact that none of the Falcons' offensive linemen rushed to Matt Ryan's defense after Ryan was on the receiving end of a late hit from Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints' rookie safety. Vaccaro hit Ryan well after he initiated a slide, and Falcons fans held their breath as Ryan briefly writhed in pain on the ground. Ryan would later say that the hit knocked the wind out of him, but it was a scary moment. Vaccaro was fined just under $8,000 by the NFL for the hit.

By contrast, in week one, the Packers' Clay Matthews hit 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick very late after Kaepernick ran the ball out of bounds, and San Francisco tackle Joe Staley was immediately in Matthews' face in defense of his quarterback. Per the NFL.com article, Smitty lamented the fact that none of Atlanta's linemen put Vaccaro on notice after his late hit on Ryan.

And it wasn't just Smitty, and fans, who were surprised and disappointed by the lackadaisical attitude of the offensive linemen who are paid to protect Atlanta's franchise quarterback. An anonymous Falcons player reportedly told NFL Media's Mike Silver that, "Our linemen are punks."

Pass protection against New Orleans left a lot to be desired. Three sacks were surrendered against the Saints, by Tony Gonzalez, Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes, respectively. Gonzalez, for his part, was extremely frustrated by the fact that he was responsible for allowing a sack for only the second time in his long career, and we shouldn't hold his sack against the offensive line, anyway. The unit gave up four quarterback hits, and an astonishing 18 hurries against the Saints. A line that porous will not allow the offense to establish any kind of rhythm. It impacted Atlanta's ability to convert for first downs against the Saints--they converted just three of 11 attempts--which also affected their time of possession.

As Dave wrote last week, general manager Thomas Dimitroff indicated that the line would have time to "gel," suggesting that personnel changes are not forthcoming. The reality is, the offensive line requires chemistry to function well, and that is something that develops with time. The only established starters along the line are left tackle Sam Baker and left guard Justin Blalock. Peter Konz did start most of last season at right guard, and although center is his natural position, it is a big adjustment. Right tackle Lamar Holmes is a brand new starter, and right guard Garrett Reynolds saw limited starts last year prior to being placed on injured reserve.

Based on their performance against the Rams, whose pass rush is quite relentless, Atlanta's offensive line does appear to be gelling. Justin Blalock allowed the lone sack of the game, and the unit allowed five hits on Matt Ryan. There were seven quarterback hits against the Rams, but one was the responsibility of Matt Ryan, and another was allowed by Jason Snelling, per Pro Football Focus. As far as hurries, Lamar Holmes allowed three, and an injured Sam Baker allowed five, for a total of eight hurries. That's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a huge improvement from the previous week. Atlanta's time of possession (30:17) and third down conversion percentage (53%) reflected the improved pass protection in week two.

If the Falcons were to pursue any personnel changes along the offensive line, it might do more harm than good at this point, as it would be disruptive to the chemistry the line appears to be building. The Rams were a huge test for the Falcons, and while they're still allowing too much pressure on Matt Ryan, they did show improvement from week one. If they continue to improve incrementally each week, the Falcons should be fine.

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