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3 Up, 3 Down: Falcons’ offensive line stock falling after opener

Keeping track of which Falcons are rising and falling throughout the 2021 season

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the first game of the season arrived and left a familiar feeling in the hearts of Falcons fans. Football is back, baby! There weren’t many highlights in Atlanta’s 32-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but this should be considered the beginning of a long journey for this team.

Throughout this journey, I’ll be here after each game to take stock of the state of the team. Who is coming off of a great week with the arrow clearly pointed up, and whose play was worth calling out and potentially worrying about for the foreseeable future? That’s what we’ll be monitoring throughout the season, and we’ll kick it off with a game that had many more bad takeaways than good.

But let’s start with the good, shall we?

3 Up

HB Cordarrelle Patterson

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

I count myself among those skeptical that Cordarrelle Patterson would truly be an impactful part of the running back rotation. Through one game, I have been proven completely wrong. Patterson was a true spark plug off the bench for Atlanta, gaining 54 yards on just seven carries – an average of nearly 8 yards per carry. He earned a PFF grade of 74.8, which was the highest mark for any Falcons offensive player on Sunday.

We will see if Patterson’s performance earns him a bigger role next week against Tampa Bay and for the future, but it was an emphatically great introduction for a new player and possibly the brightest spot of the day for the Falcons.

LB Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Look, if you get the one sack of the day for a team, you’re probably ending up in this section. It was far from a perfect game from JTM, but he showed a lot of the persistence and hustle that has endeared him to anyone who watched him progress over the years. That persistence was on full display as he continued to climb the arc against Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson and came out of the barrel on the other side – shoutout to my “100 Foot Wave” fans – to sack Hurts.

It’s a new role for JTM in this defense as more of a stand-up rusher, but there’s a reason why he and Steven Means have carved out a big portion of the snaps for this defensive rotation. Really nobody had a great game, JTM included, but he got a sack and that’s not nothing.

OL Chris Lindstrom

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

I thought Sunday was a pretty clean game from both Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom, even if it was a poor performance from the unit as a whole. Lindstrom, particularly, looked really sharp and I will continue to sing his praises as he improves. A lot of Atlanta’s best runs on the afternoon came off the right side where Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary paved the way.

Philadelphia’s defensive line absolutely got the better of the Falcons in this matchup, but Lindstrom was kind of the lone interior pillar able to hold his own. His pass protection was largely against Fletcher Cox, who did not get a sack on the afternoon. Cox did lead the Eagles with four hurries, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who those pressures came against immediately following this game. For what it’s worth, Lindstrom earned a 66.3 grade from PFF, the highest mark for an Atlanta starting offensive lineman.

3 Down

OL Jalen Mayfield

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Look, it can’t be easy to make your first NFL start against a defense that finished with the third-most sacks in the league last season. On top of that, Mayfield was transitioning from tackle, where he played in college and for the start of training camp, to guard. But it’s got to be better than that.

I don’t want to completely crush Mayfield here, because from the multiple close-up camera angles that FOX decided to give us of the rookie offensive lineman, he feels plenty bad without me piling on. The staff will certainly look to address this position, and I would expect a change to come, but Mayfield isn’t the worst player to ever set foot in the NFL no matter how bad it looked on Sunday. His stock, however, is at an all-time low.

WR Russell Gage

NFL: SEP 12 Eagles at Falcons Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Late in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan threw a pass towards Russell Gage and I remember thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, Russell Gage is on this team.” Mind you, I know very well that Gage is on this team. I’m a big fan of what he brings to this offense. I wasn’t on Sunday, though, because he didn’t bring anything. And that’s less an incrimination of Gage’s performance but more the production of the entire offense.

I’m not really sure what the game plan was in the opener, but the Falcons never pushed the ball downfield and Philadelphia’s defense was zeroed in on the intermediate and short passing game. I expect Gage to benefit from some of the explosive plays Atlanta is bound to eventually produce, but this offense seemed very out of sorts and couldn’t get him involved. This is probably as low as his stock will get this year.

OL Matt Hennessey

This is another example of a player who may have been harmed by the circumstances. In making one of the first starts of his career, Hennessey faced an excellent interior defensive line and had Mayfield to look after on his left. He struggled as a result. It also probably didn’t help that Hennessey didn’t see very much action at all in the preseason, but that’s not really much to get upset about.

Instead, what matters is that Hennessey didn’t play well when it counted. His PFF pass-blocking grade of 20 was unacceptable, and it didn’t allow Matt Ryan to have a clean pocket to step up into. The expectation is that Hennessey is still the center of the future, but the interior of this offensive line is going through some apparent growing pains.