The Atlanta Falcons came into the 2018 season expecting to field an upper-echelon offensive line, but were left disappointed after injuries and unexpected poor play saw the unit implode in front of Matt Ryan’s very eyes.
The game of football is won and lost in the trenches, and with the offensive line taking a considerable step back as a whole in 2018, it’s not a surprise that the team lost more than it won. The offense was still top 10 in scoring with 25.9 points per game, but only averaged 16.2 points per game during the team’s season-crippling five-game losing streak.
There was some good which came with the bad for the offensive line this season. We’ll look at both the good and the bad, in this article.
*Note: Each player in this analysis is ranked by snap count — the first players you see are the lineman who played the most snaps, down to the ones who played the fewest amount of snaps.
2018 PFF Grades: 79.1 overall - Ninth among all tackles; 12th among all offensive lineman. 85.8 pass blocking. 61.0 run blocking.
Let’s start with the really good. Jake Matthews played out of his mind in 2018, and he deserves recognition as an upper echelon left tackle in the NFL. His 79.1 overall PFF grade paced the team, and his 85.8 pass blocking grade placed him among the NFL’s elite.
Matthews only surrendered two sacks all season, which is very good for a left tackle. While Matt Ryan did face consistent pressure this year, he didn’t have to worry much about that pressure coming from his blindside.
Jake Matthews has thus far justified the 5 year/$75 million contract extension the Falcons rewarded him with before the season started.
2018 PFF Grades: 77.3 overall - Third among all centers; 20th among all offensive lineman. 79.1 pass blocking. 76.4 run blocking.
This season, Alex Mack took a small step backward in comparison to what we saw from him in 2016 and 2017, but he was still wonderful nonetheless, ranking among the top three centers in the NFL in terms of overall PFF grade.
Mack was the most consistent Falcon when it came to both pass blocking and run blocking, delivering strong performances in both categories. The three sacks he allowed this year was uncharacteristic, but the fact that he only surrendered four QB hits suggests that he was rather unlucky to have given up that many in the first place.
Mack is getting up there in age — he just turned 33 this season — but it looks like he’ll still be productive for years to come.
2018 PFF Grades: 63.7 overall - 35th among all guards; 114th among all offensive lineman. 70.6 pass blocking. 57.2 run blocking.
Following a rough 2017 season and the signing of Brandon Fusco through free agency, Wes Schweitzer lost his starting role coming into this season. He immediately regained it after Andy Levitre’s season-ending injury in Week 2, however, and ended up playing the third-most snaps most among all the team’s offensive lineman.
The baptism by fire he suffered after being thrust into the starting role last year helped Schweitzer out a bit, as he was much improved compared to last season’s showing. Much improved in this case, however, meant that he went from being a complete disaster to a mediocre player.
Schweitzer had a strong showing as a pass blocker on the interior part of the line but he was very much below average as a run blocker. Still, he did his job when called upon and has proven worthy of the sixth-round investment Atlanta made in him a few years ago. He’s a nice cheap option at backup guard on this roster, moving forward.
2018 PFF Grades: 63.6 overall - 63rd among all tackles; 116th among all offensive lineman. 62.9 pass blocking. 67.3 run blocking.
Oh my goodness Ryan Schraeder, what in the world happened? After being among the best right tackles in the NFL in 2016 and 2017, the Valdosta State man fell off a cliff this season.
Schraeder was the cause of a lot of pressure which built up and boiled over in Matt Ryan’s face over the course of the year. He gave up a team-high seven sacks, which is more than twice as many as any other offensive lineman on the roster, and a team-high 10 QB hits. Schraeder also had nine penalties called against him, which was more than any other lineman.
Things got to be so bad that Dan Quinn was left with no choice but to bench him for Ty Sambrailo near the end of the season, for Matt Ryan’s sake. And while his grade is almost identical to Wes Schweitzer’s, one should remember that Schweitzer is a cheap guard who came into this season as a backup while Schraeder is a well-paid tackle.
With how bad he played this season, and a potential cap savings of around $4 million if released, we may have seen the last of Ryan Schraeder as a Falcon.
2018 PFF Grades: 60.2 overall - 57th among all guards; 157th among all offensive lineman. 60.7 pass blocking. 60.7 run blocking.
Fusco was brought in from San Francisco to serve as an upgrade on the interior part of the offensive line and to help propel the unit to 2016-esq heights this season. Sadly things did not go according to plan.
Fusco went down to a season-ending injury in Atlanta’s Week 7 win against the Giants, and he was a downright liability before that. Below average as a run blocker and a pass blocker, the only thing consistent about Fusco was how disappointing he was in both facets of the game this year.
Fusco will likely be given every opportunity to win the starting job in 2019 because of the contract he was given last year, and because it’s difficult for a team to replace three offensive lineman in one offseason. He’ll have to show a lot more than he did in 2018 to seize that job, however.
2018 PFF Grades: 68.7 overall - 23rd among all guards; 79th among all offensive lineman. 58.2 pass blocking. 75.2 run blocking.
It was a tale of two types of blocking for Ben Garland in 2018 — he was third among all guards in the NFL in PFF’s run blocking grade, but was outside the top 200 among all offensive lineman in pass blocking. Unfortunately for him, the Falcons passed the ball on 65.25% of plays this year — the third highest mark in the NFL.
Garland took over a starting right guard role following Fusco’s injury, but the ghastly pass blocking made it impossible for the team to stick with him throughout the course of the year. He was subsequently benched ahead of the Week 12 game against the Ravens. Despite only starting four games and playing limited snaps in his other 10 games, Garland still gave up three sacks from the interior of the line.
Garland graded out as the second-best run blocker on the team (among lineman), slightly behind Alex Mack. He may have a future in this league as a specialized blocker, but it won’t be much of one if his pass blocking doesn’t improve.
2018 PFF Grades: 57.7 overall - 66th among all guards; 189th among all offensive lineman. 70.1 pass blocking. 49.5 run blocking.
Beadles was brought in in the middle of the season to help with the team’s waning guard depth following a slew of injuries. He was thrust into the starting role ahead of Week 12, due to Ben Garland’s struggles, and started the last five games of the season.
Beadles was a pretty big upgrade as a pass blocker over Garland, but his run blocking grade was by far the worst on the team. He was so ineffective as a run blocker that it torpedoed his PFF grade to just 57.7, which was the worst among all the team’s offensive lineman.
Beadles may get a chance to fight for a roster spot in training camp, but it’s difficult to envision him on the 53-man roster come Week 1.
2018 PFF Grades: 67.0 overall - 47th among all tackles; 89th among all offensive lineman. 76.3 pass blocking. 62.4 run blocking.
I’ve given Sambrailo a hard time in the past, but he was impressive as the team’s starting right tackle after replacing the struggling Ryan Schraeder in Week 14.
Sambrailo had the highest pass blocking grade among all of the team’s offensive lineman not named Jake Matthews and Alex Mack. He was also the team’s fourth-highest graded lineman in his limited snaps this season. Sambrailo didn’t give up a single sack or QB hit in 266 snaps this season.
Kudos to Sambrailo for improving his game over the offseason and coming back as a very good pass blocker this season. He’s a free agent this offseason, but it may be in the team’s best interested to bring Ty Sambrailo back as the team’s swing tackle next year.
2018 PFF Grades: 61.2 overall - 52nd among all guards; 149th among all offensive lineman. 41.0 pass blocking. 68.2 run blocking
Levitre played in only two games before suffering a torn triceps injury, which put him on IR. His pass blocking grade was awful — giving up a sack and two hurries in 82 snaps — but it’s not really fair to evaluate him on such limited work.
A tip of the cap to Levitre, who’s been a very good soldier for the team since being brought in in a trade from Tennessee ahead of the 2015 season. Following two straight season-ending injuries, there’s a chance that we’ve seen the last of Andy Levitre, in Falcons colors at least.