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There’s nowhere to go but up for Atlanta’s pass protection in 2019

The weak links of the offensive line have been replaced.

NFL: SEP 10 Falcons at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the offensive line changes which the Atlanta Falcons have made this past offseason. They added four new lineman (two in free agency, two in the first round of the NFL Draft) to cover three vacated starting spots along the unit, emulating Indianapolis’ successful revamp from a year ago.

When we look back on the year Atlanta’s offensive line just had, it’s easy to see why the front office was so willing to invest in a complete restructuring. Next Gen Stats puts the futility into perspective:

Matt Ryan was running for his life throughout the entire 2018 season, as his O-Line surrendered more pressures than any other unit in the league outside of Minnesota’s — a team that employed the likes of Pat Elflein and Tom Compton as its starters for 14 games.

The only two holdovers from last season’s offensive line unit, Jake Matthews and Alex Mack, are two of the best players at their respective positions. The Falcons being so high on that list of pressures surrendered was through no fault of theirs.

Brandon Fusco, the starting guard who graded out as a very below average pass blocker before his season-ending injury according to PFF (ranked 141st among all qualified lineman in pass blocking grade), is no longer on the roster. His replacement, Ben Garland, was one of the worst pass blockers in the NFL last season (outside of the top 200 among all qualified lineman in PFF’s pass blocking grade) and was subsequently benched toward the end of the season. He’s also no longer on the roster.

Wes Schweitzer, who started 13 games at the left guard position following Andy Levitre’s early season-ending injury, was a very solid pass blocker and will provide some valuable depth to the Falcons as a backup in 2019.

Ryan Schraeder at right tackle was a primary culprit when it came to the amount of pressure allowed. He gave up a team-leading seven sacks (more than twice as many as any other lineman on the team) and a team-leading 10 QB hits. Schraeder was eventually benched in favor of Ty Sambrailo, who didn’t give up a single QB hit or sack in 266 snaps, late in the season. The Falcons re-signed Sambrailo this offseason. Schraeder, meanwhile, is no longer on the roster.

To their credit, the front office recognized the issues along the offensive line and made significant changes in the form of those four aforementioned offseason additions — Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary.

Lindstrom projects to immediately slot into the starting right guard role, as he was one of the most polished lineman in the draft.

McGary and Sambrailo will have a training camp battle to decide who will get the starting right tackle job, with the loser of that battle becoming the team’s swing tackle.

Brown and Carpenter, the two free agent additions, will battle for the starting left guard spot. The loser of that battle with join Schweitzer in a backup guard role.

The starters at all three vacated positions along the offensive line from the start of the offseason will all likely be significant upgrades from the players who manned those positions last season. Don’t expect Atlanta to be in the top five in most QB pressures allowed in 2019.