The Atlanta Falcons offense is potent, no question about that.
The one thing keeping it from being an elite offense is the line. Depleted from injuries, poor performances, and the retirement of Todd Weiner, the Falcons O-line has become a shallow patchwork of no-name, hard-nosed grunts tasked to protect the face of the franchise.
But with the acquisition of All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons may have done just enough to keep Matt Ryan on his feet in 2009.
Quarterback Matt Ryan is by no means a mobile quarterback. Though gifted with the legs to evade some tackles, Ryan needs protection if he plans on not throwing from his back most of the year.
Defenses know to stay tight on Roddy White and attack the middle to stop Michael Turner, but there was never a reason to fear the tight end. Last season Ben Hartsock and Justin Peelle were just for show, blocking defenders and catching an odd pass here and there. It not only limited their options, but it gave defenses one less thing to worry about.
Enter All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez may fill the stat sheet with Hall-of-Fame-numbers on offense, but he will also serve as another solid blocker for Ryan. He will open up the field by providing an extra outlet underneath and across the middle.
Head coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Malarkey were given a shiny new toy to play with this year, and you can bet they are going to find ways to get Gonzalez the ball.
Should the vaunted Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay, or Carolina defenses come charging head-first across the line at Ryan, he can dump it off to Gonzalez. Maybe one of the Panthers' linebackers hangs back to cover the tight end, giving Ryan an extra couple of seconds to find the open man down field.
The Falcons' offensive line far exceeded expectations last year, giving their Rookie of the Year more time on his feet. Though, while the young core of linemen cannot be expected to repeat or improve upon last year’s performance, the addition of a rock like Gonzalez on the end only helps their cause.
By opening up more options for Ryan, the acquisition of Gonzalez has improved this stellar offense on multiple levels. Even without a great offensive line, the Falcons are sure to put up big numbers if they can work in Gonzalez as expected.