In Playing by the Rules, Are Falcons Missing Grit from Dirty O-Line Days?

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterDecember 14, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 9: Members of the Atlanta Falcons offensive line (L-R) Garrett Reynolds #75, Todd McClure #62, Justin Blalock #63, Sam Baker #72, and Tyson Clabo #77 are introduced before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Georgia Dome on August 9, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora told the The Star-Ledger that the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line wasn’t “dirty” like they were last season.

After the 24-2 beat down the Giants put on the Falcons in last year’s playoffs, many players on the New York defensive front accused the Falcons’ line of playing after the whistle and using underhanded tactics.

But as the Giants prepare for their Week 15 matchup with Atlanta, Umenyiora said film studies weren’t revealing those same tactics.

"They're not playing the way that they played. They're just trying to straight up block you; that's what they're trying to do. None of that dirty, after-the-play stuff they were doing last year."

There’s something else Atlanta’s offensive line isn’t doing this year: succeeding.

The silver lining surrounding this dark cloud is that quarterback Matt Ryan has only been sacked 24 times this season. But he’s been hit 66 times. Only eight quarterbacks have been knocked around more.

Where the offensive line truly isn’t living up to expectations is in the run game.

According to Football Outsiders, the Falcons’ line ranks dead last in a statistic they call Power Success, which is a percentage of runs on third or fourth down, with two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.

Atlanta succeeds 41 percent of the time in those late-down, short-yardage situations. The top five teams in the league all have 70 percent of higher success rates, with league average being 63 percent.

Another Football Outsiders stat that raises an eyebrow involves how many times running backs are tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

It happens to Falcons’ running backs 22 percent of the time. The New York Jets have the best “Stuffed Percentage” at 14 percent, the Arizona Cardinals have the worst at 28 percent. Atlanta came in at No. 28 on the list.

No one wants to see another outcome like the 24-2 playoff debacle from last season. But after viewing some of these offensive line statistics, would a move back toward “dirty” maybe be in order?

The Atlanta offensive line has been relatively intact for some time. Sure, the rookie Peter Konz is a newcomer, but center Todd McClure has been in Atlanta for 13 years. After Konz, Sam Baker is the lineman with the least tenure in Atlanta with five years on the job. Justin Blalock has been around for six, Tyson Clabo seven years.

While the four mainstays have been locked in, the right guard position has been in flux since last year.

That’s because after the 2010 season right guard Harvey Dahl left the Falcons via free agency and signed with the St. Louis Rams. Dahl was well-known for being the most intense, angry and downright mean player on Atlanta’s offensive line from 2008 to 2010.

Opposing teams knew that a line lead by Dahl’s bravado was going to be a tough matchup each week. When Dahl was around, the Falcons smacked people around in the trenches. When Dahl was around, this offensive line was mean and feared.

Who fears Atlanta’s offensive line right now?


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.