The Falcons have an offensive line problem, in case you hadn’t noticed. It’s a problem that has rarely been far from fans’ minds this season, especially after an offseason mandate from Arthur Blank to improve a consistently shaky unit has gone so awfully awry.
The Falcons exited 2018 with Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco injured, and Levitre retired and Fusco was cut after the season. That left holes at guard the team had to fill, and Ryan Schraeder’s release and subsequent retirement left another one. The Falcons had to make some tough choices with their dollars and draft picks, and to their credit they poured both into solving the problem, signing Jamon Brown and James Carpenter at guard, bringing back surprisingly impressive swing tackle Ty Sambrailo, and using two first round picks on top guard Chris Lindstrom and big, mean fellow Kaleb McGary. With all those investments, the Falcons were hoping for a quick fix for a line that had fallen into disrepair after 2016.
They didn’t get it. After Matt Ryan took six bone-rattling sacks against the Buccaneers and the ground game did nothing once again, Quinn is openly talking about changes being in the offing.
This comes off a total line failure where Wes Schweitzer wound up playing roughly a third of all offensive snaps in relief of Jamon Brown, signaling that Schweitzer might work his way into the lineup. From Will McFadden:
Reserve guard Wes Schweitzer played 32 snaps against the Buccaneers, taking over at right guard for Brown. Quinn said after the game that it was a planned effort to get Schweitzer snaps, and he may be a person the Falcons turn to if a shakeup is needed. He’s already started two games for the Falcons this season.
Swapping out Brown for Schweitzer is not a move that is going to move the needle, and I say that as one of the few defenders of Schweitzer left in this wide blue world. The Falcons have innumerable problems, which began when they signed Carpenter (largely average or worse in his career) and Brown (promising but relatively mediocre to this point in his career), continued when they lost Lindstrom for most of the season, and has been highlight by games where Alex Mack, Jake Matthews, and McGary have all struggled mightily. No one personnel change is going to fix that, and the team’s relatively expensive guard duo is just the easiest target because the Falcons have some experienced reserves there and Quinn clearly hasn’t been thrilled with their play all year long.
The Falcons have been unserious about investing resources in their line for years, as between 2015 and 2018 they didn’t spend higher than a fourth round pick on an offensive lineman, and with the exception of the excellent trade for Andy Levitre and the blockbuster Alex Mack addition, they weren’t putting much in the way of money into that group either. Jake Matthews was the last major investment before 2019 and has turned into an above average left tackle on the aggregate, but had they not gotten fortunate with undrafted free agent Ryan Schraeder, they probably would not have managed their fairly competent streak from 2015-2017.
In the short term, plugging in Schweitzer or Sambrailo or both might make a slight difference, and long-term Lindstrom, Matthews, and McGary will hopefully be the building blocks of the next quality offensive line. For all their investments, though, the Falcons still have holes on this line both now and in the future, and that’s deeply disappointing.