If you expected the Falcons guard situation to be a disaster in 2018, I could’ve understood why. Andy Levitre had been banged up and Brandon Fusco, while an on-paper upgrade, was not likely to be transformative for this offensive line. If you expected it to be a disaster once Levitre and Fusco got hurt, I would have been in strong agreement.
Yet that’s not what has happened at all. Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland have held down the fort quite capably, and if you squint a little you might even see a little bit of improvement in the guard play on this football team over what they had, though I’m not arguing that Schweitzer is better than a healthy Levitre.
Start with Schweitzer, though. He was the fourth-highest rated Atlanta Falcon on offense against Washington, showcasing athleticism as he hustled downfield for second level blocks and doing a good job of fending off a very good defensive line. Garland wasn’t as highly rated, but aside from a penalty and one bad bust in pass protection, he also held up quite capably. The entire line put together one of its best performances of the year by far as Atlanta hung 38 on Washington, something I never would have expected before kickoff.
While this is great news for the short term—and we hope that quality play continues—it also raises interesting questions about next year and beyond.
Andy Levitre will certainly be gone next year, given his pile of injuries over the last couple of seasons and expense, and Schweitzer has played his way into consideration as his heir apparent at left guard. Schweitzer will be cheap for one more year in 2019, though the Falcons could try to get out ahead of the curve and sign him for a reasonable multi-year deal before he puts three straight starting seasons together for Atlanta. Given the way the Falcons prefer to handle their guard situation, it makes a ton of sense to keep Schweitzer starting if he doesn’t falter the rest of the way.
Right guard is a more complex situation. Garland has looked like a legitimate upgrade over Brandon Fusco through one-plus games, which makes you wonder if the Falcons would have been better off switching Schweitzer and Garland a year ago. But Garland’s only on a one year deal himself and the Falcons can get out of Fusco’s deal after 2018 with a $1.5 million dead money hit in 2019 and $750,000 hit in 2020, meaning it’s a legitimate possibility. It’s possible the Falcons return Garland and Fusco and let them duke it out for the job if Garland continues to play well, or we may find that the starting right guard in 2019 is not yet on the roster.
Either way, it takes what once looked like a fairly staid guard situation and adds a considerable amount of intrigue to the 2019 offseason. For the moment, I’m just happy to be able to point to quality guard play as a reason for the team’s success on offense, even if it’s not with the guards we expected.