Falcons o-line protects Ryan just fine

Last week I was a bit nervous about picking Falcons to win the NFC South after they added all of those offensive linemen at the last minute. After Game 1, I'm feeling better about the o-line and my pick. (The Falcons played some D?!)

It wasn't a perfect game by any means for the offensive line, especially in the run game. But the new-look unit protected Matt Ryan against a good defensive front after it couldn't protect him during exhibition games. That's real reason for optimism even if new new tackle signee Jake Long has nothing left.

The official stats credited the Eagles with one sack and three quarterback hits. The Pro Football Focus video review had Ryan being hurried three times in 41 drop backs. Combine number of hits, hurries and sacks for seven total pressures, or 17 percent of drop backs.  Ryan faced pressure on a fewer percentage of drop backs in just one game last season, the season-opener against Saints (10 percent of 50 drop backs). For the season Ryan was pressured on 29.9 percent of his drops.

Protecting Ryan is priority No. 1 for the Falcons because, as we saw, if he’s got time to throw it’s going to be tough for any defense to deal with Julio Jones (nine catches on 11 targets for 141 yards and two TDs). Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked today about his team’s defense against Jones:

“The plan with dealing with Julio is very difficult because he lines up in so many different spots. If you try to double him, where is he going to be? He’s going to be the outside right receiver, he’s going to be the outside left receiver, he’s going to be the second receiver, maybe inside third receiver. Then he’s going to go in motion. So, we had some doubles on him, had some safeties leaning towards him. In the first half a couple of those plays he got, two of the plays were slants off of the run game where it was a designed run (but) Matt pulled up and fired the ball backside. We had press coverage on him but he got inside leverage.”

Eventually the Falcons are going to have to run the ball efficiently. They couldn’t do it against the Eagles. Their success rate on 30 runs, excluding scrambles and kneel downs by Ryan, was just 40 percent. (“Successful” plays are defined as 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second and 100 percent on third and fourth downs).

But the Falcons showed they can score in spite of a pedestrian run game with a heavy dose of creative plays featuring Ryan to Jones while mixing in other receivers if opponents decide to deploy extra defenders for Jones. It can work if the offensive line continues to keep Ryan clean—and if Ryan stops throwing inexplicable interceptions.