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Recap at the Line: Week 15 Summary vs New Orleans

The Falcons came up short 21-18 on Sunday. Here’s a glimpse at how both lines of scrimmage played.

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith looking on from the sidelines during the Falcons 21-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, December 18, 2022.
Another tough 1-possession loss to “those” guys
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Another week goes by where we all say, “the Falcons could/should have won that one.” Just like any loss, there are multiple reasons for it. It’s hard to win in that stadium, with or without a rookie quarterback making his first career start. It’s even more difficult when the Falcons continuously make errors, whether they be turnovers, missed assignments, you name it.

However, I want to focus on some of the points I mentioned in my preview article “Talkin’ Trenches.” There were some facets of the game I hoped to see the Falcons take better advantage of, especially when they’ve proven they work.

Offensive Line:

On Monday, I had been thinking about the movie The Blindside. The main reason is because for most of the first part of the movie, Mike doesn’t have that mean streak. He shows how dominant he can be, but he wasn’t naturally that “bully.”

That’s how Sunday’s loss in New Orleans felt at times. The offensive line continued to create holes the way they have for the majority of the season. When the dust settled, the Falcons amassed 231 rushing yards on 39 carries, good for almost six(!) yards per carry. That is the most they’ve averaged since gaining 6.9 yards per rush hosting Carolina in 2020. It’s hard to complain with those numbers, but there’s an argument that the Falcons should’ve had more rushing attempts and more rushing yards.

Not only did the offense wait to establish another dominant rushing performance, they went away from it in key third down situations. There were a few times, especially in the second half, where I thought the Falcons would rely on the run game on third down to at least create manageable fourth down situations. From how the game was going, it was very possible that the Falcons would’ve just picked up a first down.

Tyler Allegier was phenomenal on Sunday, amassing 139 yards on 17 carries (8.2 yards per carry!). What made those numbers even more impressive was the fact that he did a lot of damage on third downs. Whether it was third and short, intermediate, or long, Allgeier was huge on conversions. In the game in total, the Falcons converted on third down nine times. Allgeier picked up first downs on six of those.

It’s hard to judge how the offensive line was in pass protection with what was happening down the field. In total, Desmond Ridder was sacked four times, but that wasn’t totally on the offensive line. Falcons’ receivers had problems separating from the Saints defenders, and Ridder at times held the ball a little longer than he should’ve. Between the tight coverage and some indecisiveness, the end result was the rookie quarterback taking more hits and sacks than he needed to.

In summary, the Falcons offensive line did enough to win this game. There will always be room for critiques and improvement, but I fully believe that. From the second quarter on, the line proved once again that they can be the catalyst for a “bully” of a rushing game. For the last three games, it’ll be up to the gameplan to allow them to fully let that “bully” out more often.

The defensive line

The numbers for Andy Dalton won’t jump off the page, as he was 11 for 17 with 151 yards and two touchdowns. Taysom Hill, on the other hand, was 2 of 2 for 80 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown pass to Rashid Shaheed. That’s the longest play from scrimmage the Falcons have given up this season.

While the Falcons did get to Dalton for two sacks, he spent most of the afternoon fairly clean in the pocket. One play I wanted to highlight came on a crucial third down sack by Rashaan Evans early in the fourth quarter.

This was a great call by Frank Bush. The Falcons matched the Saints’ numbers to that side with Evans, Grady Jarrett, and Arnold Ebiketie. This play is technically designed for Evans to get home since it’s three-versus-three to that side, but it doesn’t work without Grady Jarrett executing that “pick” perfectly.

Think of a basketball pick and roll. On any given play, the person setting the pick could be wide open for a lob or pocket pass, but that might not be the initial goal. Maybe it’s to get the ball handler a switch on a weaker defender. It could be that the offensive team knows the defense will go under the screen and a jump shot will be there. There are a lot of possibilities, but one thing that is consistent in that is the play may not work as expected if the screener doesn’t do their job.

Take a look at the angle Grady Jarrett takes on this play. He attacks vertically, which makes the center have to stay with him longer. Also, because Evans does a great job setting the guard up, Jarrett can get to his hip, thus setting that “pick.” The end result is that Evans comes through free, Grady actually ends up in good contain position just in case, and Ebiketie has a solid rush as well.

The reason why I wanted to highlight this play is because it would be great to see more action like this up front for the Falcons in pass situations. I understand the frustration in the pass rush numbers, and it would be great to see the front seven put in more advantageous positions with the personnel they have. They’ve shown they can make it work. Now let’s call some more effective stuff up front for them.