If you're like most Falcons fans, it's hard to wrap your mind around this improved offensive line. The line was such a weakness in 2013 and 2014, and considering the way the team blew up the starting lineup just days before the regular season kicked off, it seemed that hoping for adequacy might be a bit too optimistic.
And the line hasn't been adequate. They've been really good. Surprisingly good.
Pro Football Focus released rankings this week of each offensive line in the league. Last season, they had the Falcons' line ranked 26th in the league. That sounds about right. So you may be surprised to learn that this year's group is currently ranked first in the league by Pro Football Focus.
Let that sink in. PFF thinks that this Falcons' offensive line is the best in the league.
It's a necessary turnaround, and has been a big factor in Atlanta's offensive success thus far. They've been adept in pass protection and run blocking, and it's made a world of difference.
PFF's writeup says that second-year left tackle Jake Matthews looks like one of the better linemen in the NFL now that he's healthy. They call center Mike Person "a revelation," and compliment free agent addition Chris Chester as well as Andy Levitre, who was acquired via trade right before the season began. The only weak link, they say, is right tackle Ryan Schraeder, though they also acknowledge that Schraeder's PFF grade of -0.1, which isn't even that bad, is largely due to having to face J.J. Watt last week.
Center Mike Person, who is new to the center position this season, says that one of the keys is to always be communicating on the field.
"You can never be too over-talkative," Person said. As long as we're all on the same page and doing it at 100 miles an hour, we set ourselves up for success."
Andy Levitre, who PFF described as looking "spent" in Tennessee, has been a stabilizing force at left guard. It's remarkable how he's integrated into this unit without even being in Atlanta for a minute of training camp or preseason action.
Levitre says that the chemistry and communication is built off the field, and credits everyone with putting in the work to do so.
"It's just putting in the work in meetings," Levitre said. "You can't take any day for granted, You really have to work toward being the best you can be on Sundays, and that starts Monday through Saturday. So it's really a credit to a lot of the guys putting in work, but there's still plenty of football to go, so we still have a lot of work to do."
And while the offensive line deserves a ton of credit for a stellar performance thus far, each of the eleven guys on the field for every offensive play is involved in the success as well.
"[The receivers and tight ends and Patrick DiMarco] do a great job blocking, as well, in the run game, and obviously they're clutch in the passing game, so it's cool to watch them be so successful," Levitre said. "And I think Kyle [Shanahan] does a great job of making play calls and getting us in the right position to make plays, and obviously, Matt getting the ball where it needs to be and being effective in that manner."
This is a huge turnaround for a unit that desperately needed to improve. The team actively sought personnel that fit the scheme, and they've gotten them up to speed remarkably quickly. The coaching staff and the players deserve a ton of credit for the effective play.
There's always room for improvement, however, and Levitre wants to see the team continue to get better week to week.
"It's exciting to be a part of this group, and we've just got to continue to grow throughout the season," Levitre said.
Your thoughts on the offensive line?