Falcons’ 2022 season review: offensive line

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ 2022 season. Today: The offensive line

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons’ offensive line, much maligned during the latter years of the Matt Ryan era, turned in a fine campaign in 2022.

The unit, led by right guard Chris Lindstrom and left tackle Jake Matthews, helped to pave the way for 159.9 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the NFL.

Drew Dalman beat out Matt Hennessy for the starting center spot. He had a 65.9 grade (D) from Pro Football Focus. Dalman had nine penalties but helped to secure the interior of the pocket as he didn’t allow a sack.

Elijah Wilkinson was the preferred starter at left guard, but the team started four players at the spot because of injuries. Colby Gossett, Hennessy and Chuma Edoga all made starts at left guard.

Kaleb McGary, who didn’t have his $13.2 million fifth-year option picked up in the offseason, had his best season in the NFL.

Lindstrom was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time and was named second-team All-Pro by The Associated Press and Pro Football Journal.

“We didn’t end up where we wanted to be, not making the playoffs and whatnot,” Matthews told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We set goals for ourselves this year, and we kind of proved that we can really run the ball and that we’re building something here that is going to be a winning culture.”

The line paved the way for rookie running back Tyler Allgeier, who broke the 43-year-old franchise rookie rushing mark of 1,023 that was set by William Andrews in 1979.

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“There is a lot to look back on and feel good about as an offensive line,” Matthews said. “We’ll keep building on that. I think we have a bright future.”

Lindstrom was a force at right guard.

“The speed in which he plays,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said. “He’s a very good athlete. He not only has quickness of the ball but he can strike you. He understands what we are trying to accomplish. He also understands the intent of the play. He understands the weakness of what he’s trying to protect in terms of the play scheme. Smart football player. Plays the right way in terms of his physicality and intent.”

Matthews started every game for the eighth season in a row. He finished with a 77.2 Pro Football Focus grade (C-plus). He had six penalties and gave up four sacks.

Other than left guard, the four other players played every snap together.

“Just like the rest of the guys from Jake to Drew to Kaleb to anybody who’s played left guard for us, you love the way that they play up front,” Ragone said. “They play for each other, and they play for the other players on the offense.”

McGary started to buy into the new coaching staff about midway through last season. After not getting his fifth-year option picked up, he came into camp in the best shape of his career.

“You look at Kaleb. … I think what you’ve seen this year, and what makes you so excited in what they were able to do ... is the way they are in sync with each other,” Ragone said. “The nonverbal communication. The way they are coming off the ball.”

McGary could now make it to free agency if the Falcons don’t extend him before March 9. He increased his market value with his improved play in 2022.

He had a grade of 86.6 by Pro Football Focus. His pass blocking still is suspect as he gave up six sacks. He had failing grades of 54, 64.3 and 62.8 in his previous three seasons. He also gave up 13 sacks as a rookie, four in 2020 and nine in 2021.

“I think when you put a new system in, new position coach, they are trying to feel those things out,” Ragone said. “They want to know where they stand. I think there is a feeling-out process.”

The Falcons want McGary to return.

“From Kaleb’s standpoint, you love the way he comes off the ball, the physicality and his mindset,” Ragone said. “You see a willingness to want to work.”

Ryan Neuzil finished the season as Dalman’s backup. Swing tackle Germain Ifedi couldn’t beat out McGary and is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Also, left guard Jalen Mayfield, who started 16 games at left guard in 2021 as a rookie, spent the season on injured reserve.

“What I see up front, regardless of position, I see a trust in their position coach and the scheme,” Ragone said. “When you see that, you get guys to play fast. If that player believes in what they are doing, ultimately, you see the player play fast.”

Ragone believes the unit can make strides in 2023.

“There is definitely a pride and intent with which they play,” Ragone said.

The linemen were impressed with the play of quarterback Desmond Ridder, wide receiver Drake London and Allgeier, all rookies.

“I think all of those guys are key pieces to our offense,” Matthews said. “They all showed that they can play in this league and be really effective, too. I have a ton of respect for those guys and the way they came to work, especially being rookies. It’s a long season. It can be a grind.

“They showed up and worked just as hard as anyone else and did a good job. We are looking forward to them and are expecting a lot from them in the future.”

Falcons’ position-by-position analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Quarterbacks

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Offensive line

Part 5: Defensive line

Part 6: Linebackers

Part 7: Defensive backs

Part 8: Special teams

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