“It was satisfying to pull that (assignment) and see it pay off,” Matthews said.
The Falcons’ offensive line was a major offseason project. Only Matthews and right guard Chris Lindstrom had secure positions.
Elijah Wilkinson, who mostly had been a right tackle in stops with Denver and Chicago, won the left guard spot. Drew Dalman beat out Matt Hennessy for the starting center spot.
Right tackle Kaleb McGary, who didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up in the offseason, held off a challenge from Germain Ifedi, a former first-round draft pick by Seattle in 2016.
The group has banded together, as the Falcons are averaging 168 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL.
“We were very proud of that,” Matthews said of the 14 running plays.
“I think that when your, especially as a group up front, number is called like that, you have to be able to make those plays and put us ahead.”
The Falcons’ lines over the past few years couldn’t protect quarterback Matt Ryan and ranked next to last (31st) in rushing last season. Ryan was sacked at least 40 times in each of the past three seasons.
A new approach and the re-configured line has been effective.
“I thought it was very exciting, a pretty cool thing to be a part of,” Matthews said. “I think it’s something we should take a lot of pride in. That’s hard to do in the NFL, and we found a way to do it.”
The Falcons are hopeful that they can sustain the high-level of play.
“So, we got to build off that and continue doing that in weeks to come,” Matthews said.
While the Falcons were on their way to finishing next to last in rushing and giving up sacks by the bushel last season, Smith saw something in a three-game stretch against Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Carolina that led him to believe most of that group could be productive.
He saw growth and development as the year progressed.
“It wasn’t perfect, but when you show progress (that’s a good sign),” Smith said. “It’s a little bit different of a team. We’ve evolved a lot. Things we changed from last year and saw. You’re always looking for ways to improve.”
The Falcons tweaked their mostly outside zone blocking system, there’s some new personnel and other players have continued to develop.
“We are very pleased with them,” Smith said.
Lindstrom has been the rock on the right side of the line.
“He always comes in every day with a great attitude,” Matthews said. “He’s the kind of teammate you want. He’s just one of those guys you can trust that he’s going to get the job done. (He gives) tremendous effort and finishes everything he does.”
The Falcons’ offensive line will have to carry on without running back Cordarrelle Patterson for at least the next four games. He had two 100-yard games this season, setting a career-high in Week 1 and then breaking it in Week 3.
His attitude was infectious throughout the offensive unit.
“I think we all should have an attitude like he does,” Matthews said. “He’s relentless. He brings it every single play. … We’re going to have to pick up on that with him not being in there, and it takes, especially when running the football, 11 guys.”
The line believes the backup running backs -- Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley and Avery Williams – will do fine. The Falcons also have running back BJ Baylor on the practice squad.
“We’ve got a lot of other really good guys who can carry the ball as well,” Matthews said. “I think we kind of showed that (against the Browns), so we just got to continue improving on that. It’s going to be a good challenge this week, but we’re looking forward to it.”
After Sam Baker went down with a knee injury in the 2014 exhibition season, Matthews started at left tackle as a rookie. He was a part of the special 2016 line that powered the way to Super Bowl 51.
He’s seen good and bad times with the Falcons.
“I think there is no question that we’re treading in the right direction,” Matthews said. “There’s still a lot we can improve on. But I think we’ve shown some good things. It’s hard to run the football consistently really well in the NFL because every team is so good.
“So, we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing, and it sounds kind of boring, but what that means is just consistently showing up, working hard, not taking any shortcuts and executing game plans. … If we continue doing that, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”
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The Bow Tie Chronicles
Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule
Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26
Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27
Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23
Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20
Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.
Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.
Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.
Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD
Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.
Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD