The Atlanta Falcons found out the distance between competing in and watching the Super Bowl was just a few yards. That lesson could lead to a future appearance. The two teams playing in Super Bowl XLVII provide a heavyweight example.
And one the Falcons are surprisingly close to following.
The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have something in common. They know the value of anchoring the ball. On both sides of the line, big bodies will be lining up over the ball. And while mass will not always trump talent, the results are clearly visible.
It Starts in the Middle
The 49ers have one of, if not the best, offensive lines in the NFL. Anyone who has seen the 49ers offensive line at work would find that hard to argue. Stout in both pass protection and creating rushing lanes, these big bodies wear down a defense.
The 49ers' O-line has as much skill as it has meat. The starting five are well coached and execute well, but when the physical makeup is examined, the design becomes evident.
It all starts with center Jonathan Goodwin. Goodwin is the closest player to the ball on every offensive series. He seems to have the ideal build for a center, packing 318 lbs onto his 6'3" frame.
The Ravens' offensive line is impressive as well. It also begins with their center, Matt Birk.
Birk might be a little slimmer than Goodwin, carrying his 310 lbs on a 6'4" frame, but he can still eat plenty of space.
Both the 49ers and Ravens run a 3-4 defense, and the philosophy of anchoring the ball carries over. The 49ers put nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga directly against the snapper. Sopoaga crams 330 lbs onto a 6'2" skeleton; that is a lot of horizontal mass.
Not to be outdone, the Ravens go even bigger. Nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu is larger than most centers in the league—as his 6'5" frame crushes the scales at 364 lbs. Kemoeatu could fall over and block two running lanes.
Building a Wall
Both Super Bowl teams put a premium on protecting the quarterback's blindside.
Left guard Mike Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley combine for 646 lbs of protection for 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers shift 623 lbs to the right side of the line.
The Ravens go even bigger when protecting QB Joe Flacco. Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele and left tackle Bryant McKinnie flatten the turf with 693 lbs of blocking power. The Ravens have 630 lbs to the centers right.
Sizing Up the Falcons
For all the fanfare about size, the Falcons are actually not too far behind. The Falcons' o-line weighs in at a combines 1,577 lbs. This is just 10 lbs behind the 49ers and 46 lbs behind the Ravens. How the weight is spread out is the difference.
The Falcons weigh in at 636 lbs to the left of center, Todd McClure. To McClure's right, the Falcons combine for 645 lbs.
Comparing the three offensive lines, the Falcons are the lightest on the blind side and the heaviest on the right.
As for McClure, his 296 lbs seems almost petite compared to the rest of the starters. He's the only starter on all the teams that is below 300 lbs.
The Falcons are harder to compare on defense. They utilize a 4-3 scheme that does not use a designated nose tackle. They also don't have a defensive starter that tips the scale at over 300 lbs. Jonathan Babineaux come the closest at 296 lbs.
Planning For the Future
Much like the loss to San Francisco, the Falcons find themselves closer to a Super Bowl than expected. The road map is there, and there are only a few turns to be made.
McClure might be near the end of his tenure in Atlanta. Peter Konz showed some talent at right guard, but was drafted to eventually play center. Konz has 18 lbs on McClure and room to grow. Most likely, the Falcons already have the offensive anchor for years to come.
The Falcons can find a replacement guard late in the draft or through free agency.
On defense, the Falcons might want to consider a space-eater for the line. They rely on a heavy rotation of the defensive line, so it would be hard to accumulate too many linemen. Having a heavyweight could help, especially in prevent situations where the Falcons only rush three down-linemen.
In the end, some added pounds are definitely needed. The Falcons need to force opponents to do some of the heavy-lifting, just like they do every week. In a game that comes down to a few yards, the Falcons would be best served by dropping a few dollars and picking up a few pounds.