The key to unlocking the potential of Atlanta’s potent offense in 2020 will be the play of the offensive line. Despite the weapons the Birds possess on that side of the ball, if the line can’t give Matt Ryan the necessary protection he needs to distribute the ball to those weapons then it’ll all be for nothing.
Last year, the offensive line performed well below average in regard to pass protection and sacks allowed, allowing 48 which was bottom 10 in the NFL. We’ll see if they can right the ship going into 2020.
Matt Ryan was the third-most sacked quarterback in the NFL in 2019, hitting the ground with ball in his possession 48 times — more than anyone in the league not named Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. And yes, we understand that a lot of factors go into sacks allowed.
It’s fair to expect an organic improvement within the line this season. Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom carry recent first round pedigree and are both expected to make a jump going into their sophomore seasons. Lindstrom missed most of his rookie year to injury and helped stabilize the line upon his return. McGary was an outright disaster for most of the campaign, giving up a league-high 13 sacks, but he showcased some moments of promise (namely when he shut down Cam Jordan in New Orleans).
Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are talisman at the left tackle and center positions, respectfully. The left guard position is very much still a question mark with James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Matt Hennessy, and Matt Gono expected to battle for that starting position.
Last year’s league average for sacks allowed was 40. We don’t expect the line to be as bad as it was last year in regard to this statistic, so we’ll set the baseline to be about what league average was last year. The baseline for this exercise will be 39.5 sacks allowed.
The case for the over
While there is hope and expectation for this offensive line to see a significant improvement in pass protection in 2020, regression could rear its ugly head given how thin the margins can be between a solid offensive line and a disaster.
The line had a lot of culprits for the high sack total allowed, but statistically it was Kaleb McGary who made things more difficult than anyone else. If he especially doesn’t display improvement then Matt Ryan will find himself on the ground on the Mercedes Benz Stadium turf way more than we would like to see.
The left guard position was the biggest question mark going into 2019 and nothing has changed a year later. Alex Mack, meanwhile, has always been steady at the center position but he’s at the stage of decline in his career.
The Falcons also possess no real depth at the tackle positions. If Jake Matthews or McGary were to miss any time, inexperience would rule the day at one (or possible two) of the most important positions in football for the Birds.
Atlanta is banking on organic growth going into 2020. If that growth doesn’t happen, then the sacks will pile up.
The case for the under
This one is simple and straightforward — McGary and Chris Lindstrom are expected to take a significant step forward going into year two of their careers, and the battle at left guard will hopefully result in a starter who will improve on the performance of James Carpenter in 2019 (even if that’s an Carpenter himself in 2020); though that position seems destined be below average once again.
Alex Mack continues being a top 10 center in the NFL and Jake Matthews makes his ascension up the ladder of the 10 best left tackles in football in the middle of his prime.
Another factor in helping limit the number of sacks allowed will be the (hopefully) improved defense and run game - two facets of the team that the front office invested a lot resources in this offseason.
A 23rd ranked scoring defense and 30th ranked rushing offense in 2019 was the recipe for a lot of Matt Ryan drop-backs. The Falcons led the league with a 66.97% pass play percentage, giving opposing pass rushers plenty of opportunity to tee off on Number 2.
Ideally, because of a more effective rushing attack and not having to play from behind most of the game, the Falcons won’t find themselves in the top five of this statistic in 2020 and thus will further limit sack opportunities.
What do you think? Will the Falcons’ offensive line showcase enough of an improvement in the pass protection department to give up fewer than 40 sacks, or is Matt Ryan destined to hit the turf many more times in 2020?
Over/Under Falcons 2020 Sacks Allowed
This poll is closed
The Falcons will give up fewer than 40 sacks in 2020
The Falcons will give up at least 40 sacks in 2020