Falcons’ 2019 report card: Offense couldn’t overcome porous blocking

Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata taps Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the ground for one of nine sacks by New Orleans Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata taps Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the ground for one of nine sacks by New Orleans Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Falcons entered the season with five first-round draft picks starting on the offensive line.

They had high hopes for the group, but things went south really fast, and the offense never got its footing. The Falcons’ preferred starting offensive line played only 45 of 1,189 offense snaps (3.7%) together.

The Falcons were scrambling at the guard position as prized rookie Chris Lindstrom suffered a broken foot in the season opener against the Vikings after playing 48 snaps and the second first-round pick Kaleb McGary, tried to make his way back from heart ablation surgery. He played 45 snaps in the opener after missing most of training camp.

Free-agent signees James Carpenter and Jamon Brown did not perform well, and McGary struggled against elite pass rushers. Carpenter tried to play through an assortment of injuries while Brown under-performed and eventually lost his spot to Wes Schweitzer.

“Obviously, in this league, there are a lot of injuries along the offensive line,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Of course, we were fortunate to have the numbers (depth-wise) we had along the offensive line we did. We'll continue to work in that area.”

The offense couldn’t run the ball.

“It’s always good when you can run the ball,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “It opens up everything else.”

The Falcons were able to unleash wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end Austin Hooper over the second half of the season.

Here’s position by position look, with grades, on how the offense performed in 2019:

Quarterback 

Analysis: Matt Ryan, who missed a game for the first time since the 2009 season, passed for 4,466 yards, 14 interceptions and 26 touchdowns. His 408 completions was tops in the NFL. Ryan had a healthy Jones at his disposal, but was playing under duress. He was sacked a career-high 48 times. The Falcons also gave up 135 quarterback hits.

Analytics: Ryan ranked 14th in passer rating and quarterback rating. His passer rating of 92.1 wasn't far off his career average of 94.6. His QBR (58.1) was the worst of a 12-year career. Schaub passed for 460 yards in his lone start.

Snaps played:  Ryan 1,087 (91.3%). Schaub 103 (8.7%).

Grade: C-plus

Running backs

Analysis: The Falcons were hoping that Devonta Freeman would return to form after two down seasons. Freeman, who missed two games because of a foot sprain, averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry. He averaged a paltry 46.9 yards per game as the Falcons' rushing attack finished 30th in the league (85.1 yards per game). Freeman looked rusty early, but never got on track as the season progressed. Fullback Kevin Smith was a solid lead blocker and short-yardage option. Brian Hill was productive in a limited role. Rookie Qadree Ollison played well in spot duty and scored four short-yardage touchdowns.

Analytics: Freeman with a minus-23 ranked 39th of 45 running backs in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) and 38th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) by Football Outsiders with a minimum of 100 rushers. DYAR means a running back with more total value. DVOA means a running back with more value per play. Both rankings point to Freeman no longer being an elite running back.

Snap counts: Freeman 675 (56.7%), Hill 238 (20%), Ito Smith 153 (12.9%), Kenjon Barner 67 (5.6%), Ollison 57 (4.8%). Fullback: Keith Smith 197 (16.6%). 

Grade: F

Tight ends 

Analysis: Austin Hooper had career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) in 13 games. He missed three games with a knee sprain, and re-signing him is the team's top offseason priority. In addition to getting open, the Falcons are fine with Hooper's in-line blocking. Luke Stocker was a valuable blocker, and Jaeden Graham showed some promise as a receiver.

Analytics: Hooper had only two drops on his 93 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.

Snap counts: Hooper 743 (62.4%), Stocker 445 (37.4%), Graham 212 (17.8%), Carson Meier 27 (2.3%).

Grade: A

Wide receivers

Analysis: The dynamic Jones played in 15 games and finished six yards short of his fourth consecutive 1,400-yard season. He caught 99 of his 157 targets for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns. Calvin Ridley, who missed the finals three games with a stomach injury, caught 63 of 93 targets for 866 yards and seven touchdowns. Russell Gage developed in the slot after Mohamed Sanu was traded to the Patriots for a second-round pick.

Analytics: Jones' 8.9 yards per target number were the lowest of his career.

Snap counts: Jones 834 (70.1%), Ridley 732 (61.5%), Gage 527 (44.3%), Sanu 390 (32.8%), Christian Blake 339 (28.5%), Justin Hardy 199 (16.7%) Olamide Zaccheaus 88 (7.4%) and Brandon Powell 0.

Grade: B

Offensive line

Analysis: Injuries held this unit back from the outset. Lindstrom, the 14th overall draft pick, suffered a broken foot in the first game and missed 11 games. Left guard was a revolving door, with Carpenter, Brown and Schweitzer being juggled around. With both guard spots weak and McGary struggling in pass protection, the unit gave up 50 sacks and 135 quarterbacks hits. The blocking was porous in the run game as the Falcons rushed for more than 100 yards in just four games.

Analytics: The Falcons' running plays were stuffed 21% of the time, which ranked 27th in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Stuffed runs are when the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. So, 21% of their 362 running plays were dead before the running back could get to the line of scrimmage. The Falcons had an adjusted sack rate of 6.6% which ranked 13th in the league. Adjusted sack rate, gives sacks plus intentional grounding penalties per attempted adjusted for down, distance and the opponent.  

Snap counts: Jake Matthews 1,189 (99.9%), McGary 1,128 (94.8%), Alex Mack 1,182 (99.3%), Schweitzer 711 (59.7%), Carpenter 692 (58.2%), Brown 602 (50.6%), Lindstrom 315 (26.5%), Ty Sambrailo 100 (8.4%), Matt Gono 40 (3.4%), John Wetzel 18 (1.5% and Sean Harlow 1 (.01%).

Grade: F

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