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The Way Forward: A Better Offensive Line Lifts The Falcons Up

If the Falcons want to win games—and they desperately do—they'll need to hang their hats on improved offensive line performance.

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As fans of the NFL, we've spent the last decade or so leaning toward the esoteric and the interpretive. There are advanced analytics, in-depth film reviews and endless parsing of plays, all aimed at discovering something everyone else has missed.

All of that is useful, especially if you've got the chops to really delve in and come away with a deeper understanding of the game of football. Sometimes—even often—this is a deceptively simple game to understand, however, and that was certainly the case for the Falcons on Sunday.

If you want to understand how the Falcons put up 27 points, ran the ball well and cobbled together a pretty effective passing game, you need look no further than two factors. The first, an inept and penalty-prone Buccaneers defense, was not within Atlanta's control. The performance of the offensive line was, however.

Against a banged-up Buccaneers front that nevertheless had human wrecking ball Gerald McCoy, the Falcons managed to allow only one sack. The pressure generally didn't get home, and Atlanta ran the ball successfully with Steven Jackson, who definitely needs a strong effort from the line to get going these days. You have to consider the quality of the competition, yes, but it was a strong effort, one that bodes well for this line and the offense going forward.

Here's a couple of striking facts from Pro Football Focus:

Ryan was blitzed on 5 of 34 drop backs and completed all 5 pass attempts for 55 yards.
On 11 drop backs where Ryan faced pressure, he completed 6 of 9 attempts for 54 yards and a touchdown.

Some of that is Ryan, of course, but it's a testament to how much better the line fared that he had time to step up into the pocket and still complete passes.  If that can continue, the Falcons will likely be competitive going forward, particularly if they can keep making those little strides on defense.

This offensive line isn't going to work miracles. You're not going to see this unit turn into one of the best in the NFL, and there are teams that will still give these guys fits going forward. Simple improvement and stability may be enough to carry this offense a lot further than many of us would have dared to dream, though. Given that the Panthers are on deck and they're without Greg Hardy and may be without Star Lotulelei and Charles Johnson, the Falcons have a decent shot to repeat last week's performance.

What are your expectations for the offensive line over the next seven games?