10 Falcons-Panthers players to watch Sunday 

COVER 9@9: Could Falcons offensive line be on verge of collapse?

Under Clayton’s ‘Theory of 150’ a decline is forthcoming 

The Washington Post’s John Clayton, formerly of ESPN, stumbled on this concept back in 2007 when talking to then Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo. 

The Bears, coming off a trip to the Super Bowl, felt it didn’t make sense to bust up their line in 2007 and keep them together for another year.  

The total age of the line was 159 years. They gave up 43 sacks and the run game average just 3.1 yards per career.  Time in the trenches caught up to that group.

Since, other teams have proven that the theory has some merit. The 2008 Redskins (158) and the 2009 Cowboys (157).

Also, the 2011 Pro Football Focus ratings of offensive lines, three of the six lowest were “Theory of 150” lines: Bears (32nd), Giants (31st) and Redskins (27th).

Under this theory, you add up the ages of the offensive linemen and history has shown several instances of team with a plus-150 number, start to fall apart and become ineffective.

The Falcons are at the magic number of 150. 

Jake Matthews (26, Feb. 11, 1992), Andy Levitre (32, May 15, 1986), Alex Mack (32, Nov. 19, 1985), Brandon Fusco (July 26, 1988) and Ryan Schraeder (May 4, 1988).

Under Clayton’s theory, the clock is ticking on the remaining success of this line.

The group didn’t have a good opening night against the Eagles as quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked four times and hit 13 times. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rushed 15 times for 55 yards (3.6 yards per carry). 

The smallish cut-blocking line is designed for the outside-zone system, but couldn’t get Freeman into the end zone from a yard out two times against the Eagles. Coleman did score on a 9-yard run. 

The Falcons want to have better run-pass balance to help the line out. 

“We’ll make sure each and every week, often times there can be a game that can get out of whack, this wasn’t one of them from a run-pass number,” Quinn said. “First and second-down, having that balance helps the offensive line, helps the run game, and those two things marry so well together.” 

Fusco, who was signed in free agency, beat out Wes Schweitzer (24) for the right guard spot.

“I thought in the first game, the protection part, that part of his game is one of the best things that he does,” Quinn said. “I thought looking at him, I thought it was a good performance from a pass protection side.

“Was there stuff for all of us to clean up? One hundred. But I thought for his first game against some good matchups, he held his own for sure.”

The Falcons started the oldest line of the NFC South teams in Week 1.

The Panthers -- Taylor Moton (24), Greg Van Roten (28), Ryan Kalil (33), Trai Turner 25) and Daryl Williams (26) – are 136.

The Bucs – Donovan Smith (25), Ali Marpet (25), Ryan Jensen (27), Caleb Benenoch (24) and Demar Dotson (32 – are 133.

The Saints started the youngest line of the NFC South teams with a total age of 129. Terron Armstead (27), Josh LeRibeus (29) Max Unger (22), Larry Warford (27) and Ryan Ramczyk (24) started in the Saints’ 48-40 loss to the Bucs. 

The Falcons will have a chance get younger next year. Levitre is in the last year of his contract. Mack and Schraeder are signed through 2021. Fusco is signed through 2020 and Matthews is signed through 2023. 

The Falcons have to hope Schweitzer continues to develop along with Sean Harlow (23), who’s on the practice squad.

Tackle Ty Sambralio (26), tackle Matt Gono (22) and guard Ben Garland (30) are the other linemen on the 53-man roster.

Tackle Daniel Brunskill (24) and center/guard J.C. Hassennauer (24) are on the practice squad.

The line has also contributed to the team’s red zone woes.

“I’m just trying to execute the plays as I best I can,” Levitre said. “My mentality for that is not where we are at on the field, it’s just getting the job done each play.”

The Falcons hope to jump-start the run game against Carolina on Sunday at 1 p.m at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which held Dallas Ezekiel Elliot to 69 yards on rushing on 15 carries.

“We just have to be effective early,” Levitre said. “They have a good front. Just staying on guys and giving the backs a chance to hit it and make some plays. Those guys are well and capable of doing that. Just giving them those opportunities.”

The Panthers’ pass rush amassed six sacks and 10 quarterback hits against the Cowboys. 

“Yeah, they have big front,” Levitre said. “We know we have some things to work on from last week. It’s going to be a big preparation (week) for us to make some changes, fix those issues that we had last week.”

2. MISSING NEAL AND JONES: The Falcons know they have a big hole to fill on defense with the loss of strong safety Keanu Neal. 

“We’ll definitely miss Keanu and his physicality on the defense,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “But we have other guys ready to step up for that.”

The Falcons also must replace middle linebacker Deion Jones, who suffered a broken foot and will be out at least eight weeks. He’s expected to return this season.

Second-year sensation Damontae Kazee is expected to replace Neal, while Duke Riley backed up Jones in the exhibition season and will get the first shot at replacing him,

“I don’t know how you replace the middle linebacker, that’s a tough one,” said Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday. “He’s on a defense that’s based on speed and aggression. That’s tough. I feel badly for them.”

Polian also noted that the Panthers lost tight end Greg Olsen and he’s quarterback Cam Newton’s security blanket. Newton is a different quarterback without Olsen. 

“This (NFC South) division has just gotten a lot more competitive if you want to look at it that way,” Polian said. “It’s gotten a lot more competitive because three of the best players in this division are now on the shelf for significant amounts of time.”

3. SAUBERT’S SNAP COUNT: Falcons second-year tight end Eric Saubert, who played only 30 snaps from scrimmage last season, played 13 against the Eagles.

He didn’t catch the one pass that came his way.

“That was really cool,” Saubert said. “That’s obviously where I want to help contribute. I know what to do with all of my assignments. It’s just about getting better from here.”

4. ROSTER MOVES: The Falcons agreed to terms with inside linebacker Corey Nelson.

The Falcons also signed safety Keith Tandy and wide receiver Christian Blake to the practice squad.

The Falcons released long snapper Jeff Overbaugh and cornerback Deante Burton to make room for Nelson and Tandy. Burton was claimed off wiavers by the Packers.

In other roster moves on Tuesday, the Falcons promoted running back Brian Hill to the active roster and signed wide receiver Julian Williams to the practice squad. The team also waived defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner from the practice squad.

Nelson worked out at the team’s facilities on Monday.

Nelson, 26, played 53 games with six starts in his four seasons in Denver. He signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in March, but they released him late last month.

Tandy, 29, played in 84 games and made 15 starts for Tampa Bay. He was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2012 draft.

5. McKINLEY ON FINISHING: Second-year defensive end Tarrkarist McKinley thought the defense should have preserved a win over the Eagles after the Falcons took a 12-10 lead with 9:48 to play.

After an exchange of punts, the Eagles got the ball with 4:51 to play.

“We had a chance to finish the game off when it was 12-10 with four minutes left,” McKinley said. “That was our opportunity to put our foot on their throat and we let them go down and score. As a defense, we have to embrace them opportunities to get them off the field and finish the game so that our offense wouldn’t be in that situation.” 

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan fumbles the ball as he is hit by the Eagles' Chris Long during the fourth quarter Sept. 8, 2018, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Photo: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

6. SERIES RECORD: This will be the 47th regular-season meeting with the Panthers. The Falcons lead the series, 28-18. 

The two teams split last season with Carolina winning 20-17 at home on Nov. 5 and the Falcons winning 22-10 on Dec. 31 at home. The Falcons earned a playoff berth with the victory. 

From the game story: 

“The Falcons can pack their bags for the playoffs.

“Kicker Matt Bryant made five second-half field goals and the defense bottled up Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on the way to a 22-10 victory on Sunday before 71,141 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”

7. ROOKIE CORNER: Falcons first-round pick Calvin Ridley played 46 of 70 snaps (66 percent). He was targeted on two plays, but didn’t have any catches.

Ridley, who was selected in the first round of the draft (26th overall), is a deep threat. However, the Falcons didn’t have much time to throw many deep passes.

The Eagles had four sacks and 13 quarterback hits on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. 

On defense, second-round pick Isaiah Oliver (ankle injury) was inactive.

Defensive tackle Deadrin Senat, the team’s third-round pick, played 20 of 72 defensive snaps (22 percent) and had three tackles.

Running back Ito Smith, the fourth-round pick, played eight plays on special teams. 

Linebacker Foye Oluojun, the sixth-round pick, played four snaps on defense.

Wide receiver Russell Gage, the sixth-round pick, play one snap on offense and 19 on special teams. 

8. INJURY REPORT:  Quinn will issue the official report later today. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver (ankle), long snapper Josh Harris (left hip), middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot), guard Ben Garland (calf) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (shoulder) are the known injured players. 

Safety Ricardo Allen (thigh), wide receiver Marvin Hall (ankle), Deion Jones (hamstring) and linebacker Foye Oluokun (ankle) were on the injury report last week but fully participated in practice. 

9. DEPTH CHART:  The Falcons added three players to the defense this week to replace Keanu Neal, cornerback Deante Burton and long snapper Jeff Overbaugh. 

Long snapper Josh Harris, who’s streak of 103 consecutive starts was snapped last week against the Eagles,  is battling back from a left hip injury. 

Here’s the depth chart with the addition of defensive end Steven Means, linebacker Corey Nelson and safety Keith Tandy. 


WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland

C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 77 Matt Gono

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage 

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith

FB 30 Ricky Ortiz


DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 90 Derrick Shelby 

DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 92 Justin Zimmer 

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 56 Steven Means

WLB 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael

MLB 45 Deion Jones, 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 55 Corey Nelson

SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 52 Dewey Jarvis 

CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson 

*NB 34 Brian Poole, 27 Damontae Kazee 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 28 Justin Bethel 

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee 

S 27 Damontae Kazee, 29 Jordan Richards, 35 Keith Tandy 


K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 14 Justin Hardy, 18 Calvin Ridley 

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

*Nickel back was added to the official depth chart because the Falcons played nickel on 70 percent of their snaps last season.

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.