Falcons QB Matt Ryan fumbles as he is hit by T.J. Watt during Sunday's 41-17 Steelers victory in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Falcons’ 2018 unit-by-unit analysis: The offensive line

Matt Ryan was hit a career-high 108 times

The Falcons were projected to compete for the Super Bowl title, but injuries robbed the team of key players on defense.

The Falcons stumbled out of the gate, but regrouped as they were 4-4 at the halfway point. But a lackluster performance in Cleveland led to a five-game losing streak.

The team closed out with three straight wins, but that wasn’t enough to save the jobs of coordinators Steve Sarkisian, Marquand Manuel and Keith Armstrong. 

Here's the third installment of our unit-by-unit review of the 2018 team. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the wide receivers. Today, the offensive line:

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

OFFENSIVE LINE

Who: Jake Matthews, Alex Mack, Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, Ryan Schraeder, Brandon Fusco, Andy Levitre, Ty Sambrailo, Zane Beadles and Matt Gono. (Levitre and Fusco ended the season on injured reserve)

Contract/free agent situation:  Levitre, Beadles, Garland and Sambrailo are set to become unrestricted free agents. Levitre turns 33 in May and has had the same injury in past two seasons. Beadles did a credible job, but is not the long-term answer at guard. Sambrailo played well at right tackle down the stretch and is worth re-signing.

What they did in season: There were some early indicators that the Falcons offensive line was on the verge of collapse pursuant to John Clayton’s “Theory of 150.”

The team either ignored the issue or didn’t know about the rule of 150 years, of which we wrote about in the exhibition season and throughout the season as the predictable collapse unfolded.

The line gave up 42 sacks and quarterback Matt Ryan was hit a career-high 108 times. The line gave up more hits than the Peter Konz-Lamar Holmes led line of 2013, which gave up 44 sacks and 100 hits. 

So, it was no surprise when owner Arthur Blank confirmed that the general manager Thomas Dimtroff and Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s No. 1 offseason priority is to fix the offensive line.

The line gave up double-digit quarterback hits in three games: Philadelphia (14), Pittsburgh (14) and in the second New Orleans game (13). The unit gave up six sacks to the Steelers and in the second Saints game. The line didn’t give up a sack in just one game, against Carolina in Week Two. 

In addition to the pass protection being shoddy, the Falcons couldn’t run the ball. The rushing attack average 98.3 yards per game, which was ranked 27th in the league.

The line was ranked 31st of 32 teams in stuffed runs by footballoutsiders.com. Stuff runs are the percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

At the end of the season, Quinn said that he was only comfortable with two spots on the offensive line, left tackle and center.

Offensive line coach Chris Morgan survived the purge of the coordinators and will return. Bob Kronenberger was named the new assistant offensive line coach.

So, it’s clear that the Falcons believe their issues were with the talent and not the teacher. 

“Can he? Yes, he can?” owner Arthur Blank said when asked if Dimitroff could fix the offensive line. “Most importantly, the coach and Thomas believe that’s probably our No. 1 priority.”

The Falcons know that Ryan is most effective when he can step up into the interior of the pocket. The Falcons started six different guards last season, and the interior of the pocket was not firm. 

“Matt plays much better when he’s vertical as opposed to horizontal,” Blank said. “The running game is an important part of the passing game in the total offense. If we depend on one versus the other you are not going to get a successful outcome.”  Grade: F

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

Monday: Quarterbacks

Tuesday: Running backs

Wednesday: Offensive line

Thursday: Wide receivers

Friday: Tight ends

Next Week: Defense/Special teams

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