I think this has been a question that a lot of us have asked ourselves recently. For the first two weeks of the season, the blocking was so bad that I feared Joey Harrington would actually be killed. Then the line pulled a stunning reversal, managing to keep Harrington on his feet and just generally not-suck to a startling degree. How the heck did this happen?
The answer depends on whether or not you believe in the Gregg Easterbrook theory that linemen are mostly just standing around on every play. If you subscribe to that idea, then maybe all the Falcons have done is told the linemen to focus on what's going on behind them. That would certainly explain the sudden turnaround in blocking ability, wouldn't it? It would certainly seem to explain why the turnaround was so sudden and so complete.
Except I don't really buy that. You do have plays where linemen stand around; I've seen our own guys do it before and I doubt the season will go by without me seeing it again. That's dismissing the unit as lazy, though, and I just don't see that. Instead, I think it's a combination of several smaller factors.
First, you have the line adjusting to the new philosophy. To me this is the most obvious factor. These are mostly veteran linemen who have been through a change before, but putting pounds back on and going from zone to power blocking is a big adjustment. After a couple of weeks of getting pushed around and generally manhandled, the line just kind of gelled. It wouldn't be unheard of, and watching a more confident group of blockers keep Mario Williams out of the backfield only confirmed that for me. They're still learning the scheme, they might still regress, but I think they're coming out of the woods for a while.
The second factor is Joey Harrington himself, who seems to be moving around a little more comfortably. He's been doing an excellent job of getting the ball to White, Jenkins and Crumpler, as well, who in turn have actually been managing to get open. That alone takes a great deal of pressure off the offensive line, which suddenly isn't desperately holding fast, strong defenders back for ten seconds or more. There has to be some credit given to Harrington and Co. for that.
The third factor is coaching. Petrino appears to have adjusted his playcalling a little bit to get rid of the ball faster and put his QB out of harm's way. This kind of adjustment is almost unheard of among NFL coaches, but if you watch the tape you'll notice Petrino and Hue Jackson have adjusted, if only a little. Compare that to last year's pitiful display with Mora and Knapp, where the world's fastest quarterback was asked to take five to seven step drops on virtually every other play. The times, they were not so good.
So I think you can look at those three factors to explain the change; if I'm overlooking something, be sure to let me know. I'd like to foster discussion here, because it truly has been a pretty miraculous turnaround.
Now if only they could do the same thing for the running game.
[editor's note, by Dave the Falconer] Never, ever let me write the word adjusted that many times in one sentence again. I sound like John Madden.