Chris Lindstrom’s ascension to one of the very best offensive linemen in the NFL has been a glaring bright spot for a team that has largely been out of the spotlight for much of his career. The 26-year-old has become the type of elite anchor teams can build an offensive line around, so let’s take a closer look at what makes Lindstrom so important for the Atlanta Falcons.
The first thing that jumps out is his impact on the run game, which is le plat principal in Arthur Smith’s offense. It’s fair to note that Smith’s offense does make life a little easier on the offensive line, but Lindstrom is the type of player who rewards the assistance from his coach by making the entire unit better.
Contact balance is something we often use when discussing ball carriers, but it’s an essential trait for an offensive lineman as well. And nobody on Atlanta’s line plays with better contact balance than Lindstrom. He routinely makes plays out in space that require him to stymie a full-speed defender and position himself for the correct block while running at full speed.
Take the play above for example. Backed up against their own goal line for the team’s opening drive against the Cleveland Browns, the Falcons couldn’t afford to have a negative play on first down. Lindstrom delivers a good initial punch on his double team with Kaleb McGary, which then allows him to slide to the second level and create a little lane for Cordarrelle Patterson to find.
Patterson ultimately picks up 6 yards, and the Falcons get enough room for a big-play strike to Kyle Pitts on second down. Without Lindstrom there to stay upright and fight to seal that lane, Patterson may never have found the daylight he needed for the positive play.
For a move-based run game that used outside zone at a high clip, Lindstrom’s athleticism is crucial.
It also allows Smith to tap into something that’s become a little bit more of a trend in recent seasons: using pulling centers and guards to create a numbers advantage at the point of attack. Pulling an offensive lineman isn’t a novel idea by any means, but we’ve seen a resurgence in it, and that’s because of players like Lindstrom who have rare movement skills.
Atlanta’s offense in 2022 kept defenses guessing with a lot of pre- and post-snap movement. It’s easy to identify what type of movement happens before the ball is snapped, but once the play starts, that’s when it’s Lindstrom’s turn to keep defenders on their toes.
Consider this play against the Pittsburgh Steelers late in the season. With everyone moving to the right of the play, Lindstrom hustles to the back side and serves as the lead blocker for Patterson. It requires confidence and competence to corral a player like Myles Jack in space, but Lindstrom matched him step for step and held out long enough for Patterson to create another positive play.
Lindstrom is never overreaching, and he keeps his feet under him as he climbs to the next level. Generally, the further a lineman gets away from the line of scrimmage, the more uncomfortable he looks. That’s not the case with Lindstrom, who continued to show in the same game how his speed can alter the math on the play side even if he starts on the backside.
For all of his highlights as a run blocker, and there are a lot of them, he’s also developed into a pretty good pass protector as well. He finished just behind Jake Matthews as the team’s top pass blocker, according to Pro Football Focus, and he plays a key role in really selling Atlanta’s play-action passing game.
Play action is a primary way in which Smith helps out his offensive line. By staying in advantageous down-and-distance situations and avoiding pure drop-back play calls, the Falcons really keep their cards close to the chest until the ball is snapped. Once that pigskin is picked up, however, it falls on the players to execute.
Watch how quickly Lindstrom fires out of his stance in the play above. If I’m a defender, I believe this is an outside run play to the right 10 times out of 10. It makes the pass blocking that much easier if the pass rusher isn’t really trying to get upfield to begin with. That’s the beauty of Atlanta’s play-action game: How the offensive line sells out to pull as many defenders as possible into that false vortex—and it starts with Lindstrom.
In each of his four seasons with the Falcons, Lindstrom has improved. Last season wasn’t an outlier so much as it was the next step in the continual growth we’ve seen. As PFF pointed out in naming Lindstrom their top guard of the 2022 season, there’s reason to believe he will keep up this level of play.
“Importantly, this does not look like a flash-in-the-pan season for him. Lindstrom’s grade ranks in aspects of offensive line play that are generally stable year to year are outstanding. He finished above the 96th percentile in pass-blocking grade, true pass-blocking grade, pass-blocking grade without play action, pass-blocking grade on five- and seven-step concepts, run-blocking grade on zone runs and positively graded run plays.”
All signs point towards the Falcons once again relying on their run game to a high degree this fall. It’s easy to attribute that to the three-headed monster at running back or the inexperience that Desmond Ridder presents at quarterback. But Lindstrom likely plays as much of a role in one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks as anyone in the building.
If he keeps up this pace, Lindstrom may quickly rise up the list of most esteemed linemen in franchise history.