Falcons o-line strong against Saints

The Falcons’ revamped offensive line made a strong 2014 debut on Sunday even with its prized left tackle sidelined for half the game because of injury.

Rookie Jake Matthews missed the second half because against the Saints but the line held together to form an effective unit. Quarterback Matt Ryan had time to operate in the pocket and the backs had room to run as the Falcons set a franchise record with 568 total yards.

“One of the reasons we are able to put up the kind of numbers we are was because of the play of our offensive line,” Ryan said. “They did a fantastic job in pass protection and in the run game all day.”

The Falcons allowed 44 sacks in 2013 but on Sunday the Saints didn’t record a sack and hit Ryan just three times in 42 drop backs. The Falcons also averaged 4.9 yards per carry—boosted by Ryan’s three scrambles for 15 yards—a mark they equaled or surpassed in just four games last season.

NFL teams prefer to use the same five players on the offensive line because it helps build cohesiveness. The Falcons had to make changes for this season because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

They signed veteran Jon Asamoah to start at right guard and selected Matthews with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft.

Sam Baker and Mike Johnson, the projected starting left and right tackles, respectively, were lost to season-ending injuries before the season.

And then Matthews went down on Sunday, forcing the Falcons to make another change on the fly.

Gabe Carimi, added as a free agent during the off season, replaced Matthews at left tackle. He had been splitting time with Lamar Holmes at right tackle during the game.

“We have seven, eight guys who have played, can play in the league,” Falcons center Joe Hawley said. “Gabe has played a long time. He’s started a lot of games. So I don’t think we missed a beat. He was prepared. Those (reserve) guys prepare like they are playing every week. (Carimi) did a great job when his number was called.”

Carimi, a first-round pick for the Bears in 2011, struggled at both tackle spots for Chicago and eventually was moved to guard. Carimi played in 14 games with three starts for Tampa Bay in 2013. During Falcons training camp Carimi primarily practiced at guard while also taking reps at right tackle.

Holmes, a third-round draft pick by the Falcons in 2012, was forced to start last season because of injuries to left tackle Sam Baker and right tackle Mike Johnson. Holmes scuffled while starting 12 games at left tackle and three games at right tackle.

The line’s play against the Saints in spite of the injury to Matthews gives the Falcons reason to believe the unit can be better this season.

“That’s why the coaches do what they do and shuffle us throughout the week in practice,” Holmes said. “You play different spots just in case something happens so you can be ready to step in and play.”