Despite yielding to relentless pressure in the season opening loss, Falcons coach Mike Smith remained supportive of his offensive line on Monday.
“I’m absolutely confident that we’ve got the right guys,” Smith said when asked about the line personnel. “I think that we’ll see a large improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, in terms of not only our offensive line, but our football team. … We were playing a lot of younger guys who have not played as much and it was a great learning experience for them.”
The New Orleans Saints defense, coming from all directions, made things uncomfortable for quarterback Matt Ryan.
The pounding the Saints issued Ryan, who recently signed a $103.75 million contract extension, was similar to the season-opening shellacking the Chicago Bears inflicted to start the 2011 campaign. In that 30-12 defeat to the Bears, Ryan was sacked five times and hit 11 times on 47 drop backs. He was under duress on 34 percent of the snaps.
Against the Saints, Ryan was sacked three times and harassed on almost a quarter of his 38 pass attempts. He had to also hurry passes 16 other times, according to analytics website profootballfocus.com
The Falcons didn’t protect well in the exhibition season and it appeared that carried over into the opener.
Back in 2011, the line, then under the direction of Paul Boudreau, improved as the season progressed. That team also had to move away from five- and seven-step dropbacks in order to keep Ryan safe.
These Falcons will have to correct their pass-blocking issues fast. They are set to face a St. Louis Rams team which tied for the league lead in sacks last season with 52.
The Saints were getting pressure on Ryan without resorting to many blitzes or stunts.
Few were blameless. Left tackle Sam Baker made some bad plays. Right guard Garrett Reynolds appeared stymied on some bull rushes. Right tackle Lamar Holmes started out strong, but then appeared to fade. Center Peter Konz was steamrolled on one play.
Smith said game film was heavily scrutinized as the coaches looked for causes as well as ways other players might help the line. They resorted to several methods against the Saints, including using Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Julio Jones to chip block on defenders before running their routes.
But no matter what the Falcons tried, nothing seemed to slow the Saints, who even appeared ready for the Falcons’ screen plays, where are designed to slow down the pass rush.
“We had too much (pressure) on our quarterback throughout the entire game, whether if it was five-man pressures, six-man pressures, four-man rushes or three-man rushes,” Smith said. “We’ve got to do a better job of protecting our quarterback.”
The Falcons last week signed veteran tackle Jeremy Trueblood, a former starter with Tampa Bay. He started 84 of the 101 games that he has played, but was inactive the Saints game and Smith didn’t sound like there were any plans to rush the veteran into the lineup.
But then he added, “Competition is what drives this team and I think it’s what drives this league.”
Konz accepted the criticism of his unit.
“I love being an underdog,” Konz said. “And I love to be someone that is under the radar. That just gives us an opportunity to show everybody in the country that we can be the best line.”
Like Smith, Konz believes the offensive front, under the direction of coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn, can provide better pass protection.
“A lot of it is technical,” Konz said.
The Falcons appear prepared to let the line develop. If they are panicking, they are doing a good job of hiding it.
“You see little things that come with time (and) a little maturity,” said Konz, a second-year player.
The 2011 Falcons that were punished by the Bears in the opener went on to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs. But the offensive line was later brutalized in the wild card round of the playoffs by the New York Giants, who were on their way to a Super Bowl title.