After the Falcons third preseason game - in which Matt Ryan was nearly murdered and the offense looked disfunctional - fans were terrified of what would happen with our offense in 2015. It was a sobering moment, made all the worse when the team traded for a new starting left guard after the fourth preseason game. On top of that, the presumed starter at center was cut in favor of a player who had not played the position before. For a position group that relies on communication and chemistry to get better, it was a series of troubling moves.
As it turns out, those moves appear to have worked out - mostly. Through 9 games, the Falcons offensive line looks improved - if not entirely consistent. Here are some thoughts on the individuals tasked with this turn around.
Jake Matthews was hindered by injuries in his rookie year and understandably struggled. This season, however, he has played very well and is living up to his first round pedigree. He is currently PFFs 9th rated tackle. Through 9 games, he's given up just one sack, 2 hits and 20 hurries. He's also been very good in run blocking, often getting out to the second level and setting up big holes that have contributed to Devonta Freeman's success this year. If he can continue along these lines, the Falcons will have a franchise LT that they can lean on for the next decade. Grade: A
On the other side, un-drafted free agent Ryan Schraeder continues to turn heads. He's currently the 11th rated tackle per PFF and he has given up 2 sacks, 1 hit and 12 hurries on the year. Schraeder has done ok in run blocking, but has been a much better pass protector overall. While he's struggled against top-tier competition like JJ Watt, he's held his own against "lesser" pass rushers. For a player who only started playing tackle in college, he's been a very good find for the Falcons. Grade: A
Jake Long, the former All-Pro first rounder, has not had to see the field due to the strong play of Matthews and Schraeder. Having him as an insurance policy is a huge plus for the team.
Overall Grade: A
When Jon Asamoah was replaced by Chris Chester at right guard in the preseason, many fans were concerned about how the 32 year old veteran would hold up. So far, Chester has played ok - though his play in the last few games has been somewhat concerning. Through 9 games, Chester ranks 27th by PFFs metrics. His run blocking has been very good, but his pass blocking has been a concern. He's allowed 4 sacks, 3 hits and 14 hurries through 9 games. Undoubtedly, his veteran leadership has been important for this line, but the team may look to upgrade this position in the off-season. Grade: C
At left guard, Andy Levitre is a similar story. The Falcons traded a 6th round pick to secure him from the Tennessee Titans before the first week of the regular season. He was immediately inserted into the starting line up and has played better than the other options we had available. He currently ranks 23rd in PFFs metrics. Like Chester, his run blocking has been very good but his pass blocking has been average at best. On the year, he's allowed 1 sack, 2 hits and 20 hurries. Grade: B-
Though both guards are new to the team, they were good fits for the wide zone blocking scheme that Kyle Shanahan likes to run. Both Chester and Levitre really need to step up their pass protection, however. It's critical that they improve in this regard to close out the season, or else the offense could struggle as our QB is pressured up the middle.
Overall Grade: C
When the Falcons signed Mike Person, many fans figured it was for camp competition or as a depth player at best. When he ended up as our day 1 starter, many questioned if the coaching staff knew what they were doing. Well, the early returns have been ok. Person started off strong, but has cooled in recent weeks. He currently ranks 25th in PFFs rankings. He initially had a very strong run blocking grade, but as of right now, he ranks negatively in both pass blocking and run blocking. Not to mention his struggles with snapping the ball, which seems to show up between 2 to 3 times per game. On the year, he has given up 0 sacks, 2 hits and 9 hurries. While he has played well at times, Person has been inconsistent. Grade: C-
When Person has missed time, 2nd year player James Stone has had to step in. The results have been a mixed-bag as well. In his 123 snaps, he's given up 0 sacks, 1 hit and 0 hurries. He's done well in run blocking and his pass blocking has been ok. However, his issues with snaps may be worse than with Person. Grade: B-
The center position is one that the Falcons may need to upgrade in the off-season as well. While Person and Stone have played well in spots, their struggles with snapping the ball cleanly are unacceptable. If neither player can improve to close out the season, the offense will continue to have these unfortunate hiccups every game - often leading to turnovers or lost plays that kill drives.
While the offensive line started the year off strong, they've struggled in the past several games - especially on the interior. The team may need to look towards improving the roster at both center and right guard in the off-season if this offense is going to hit it's full potential. Hopefully, Chester, Person and Levitre can settle down and play to the level that they started the season at. Meanwhile, the tackles appear to be a bright spot for the team, as they continue to provide solid protection and good run blocking.
This is an improved unit, but one that still has holes to fill.
Overall grade: B-
What are your thoughts on the offensive line?