Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack during an NFL football game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in E. Rutherford, N.J. Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. ( Images for Panini)
Photo: Winslow Townson/AP
Photo: Winslow Townson/AP

COVER 9@9: How much does the offensive line have left in the tank? 

1. A closer look at the collapse of the offensive line: Back in September it was merely a question. Now, 12 games into the season, we have some answers.

Under John Clayton’s “Theory of 150,” the Falcons offensive line was on schedule to collapse this season at the earliest and next season for sure. 

With the way the running game has been shut down and coupled with how poor the pass protection has been over the past four games, the evidence is pointing to full blown collapse this season.

The Football Gods came to me last night. The message they left was, “Football is very, very hard when you can’t block the other team.” 

Clayton, formerly of ESPN, stumbled on this “Theory of 150” concept back in 2007 when talking to then Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo. 

The Bears, coming off a trip to the Super Bowl, felt it didn’t make sense to break up their line in 2007 and keep them together for another year. 

The total age of the line was 159 years old. They gave up 43 sacks and the run game averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. Time in the trenches caught up to that group.

Since, other teams have proven that the theory has some merit. The 2008 Redskins (158) and the 2009 Cowboys (157).

Also, the 2011 Pro Football Focus ratings of offensive lines, three of the six lowest were “Theory of 150” lines: Bears (32nd), Giants (31st) and Redskins (27th).

Under this theory, you add up the ages of the offensive linemen and history has shown several instances of team with a plus-150 number, start to fall apart and become ineffective.

The Falcons were exactly at the magic number of 150 entering the season.

Jake Matthews (26), Andy Levitre (32), Alex Mack (32), Brandon Fusco (30) and Ryan Schraeder (30).

They got younger by five years when Levitre went down and was replace by Wes Schweitzer (25). When Fusco when down, Garland (30) was just three months younger than Fusco. 

They got older by two years when Zane Beadles (32) took over for Garland. The current line is at 145 years old.  

The smallish cut-blocking line is designed for the outside-zone system and has struggled in short-yardage situation.

Schweitzer, Mack and Beadles were all pushed back on a fourth-and-1 run against the Ravens on Sunday in the latest of four straight losses. 

On Matt Ryan’s last 82 drop backs, he’s been sacked or hit on 29 of those plays. He’s been affected on 35.3 percent of his pass attempt in losses to the Saints and Ravens. 

Falcons coach Dan Quinn reluctantly admitted that the amount of hits are starting to concern him.

“Well, number one, I'm concerned about it because if we're not protecting him in the way that we can, then that gets hard,” Quinn said. 

The Falcons have gotten behind and it is harder to pass protect against defensive lines who know you’re  going to throw. 

“Yeah, I'm concerned, but I'm as concerned about us playing as well as we can,” Quinn said. “And if we do that and play better on some of the third downs and allow some of our run game to get going again, I would anticipate those numbers going back the other way in terms of the hits on to him.”

The Falcons run game hasn’t gotten going because there hasn’t been any room to run. The third down problem is not going away without some better blocking.

The Falcons will have a chance get younger next year. Levitre is in the last year of his contract. Mack and Schraeder are signed through 2021. Fusco is signed through 2020 and Matthews is signed through 2023. 

The Falcons have to hope Schweitzer continues to develop along with Sean Harlow (23), who’s on the practice squad. Tackles Ty Sambralio (26) and tackle Matt Gono (22) are the other linemen on the 53-man roster.

“We just aren’t making plays,” Matthews said after the Ravens game. “We are just not putting ourselves in good situations. Obviously, it’s showing. We have a lot of things to get better at.”

The Falcons’ offensive line knows they are on the spot. 

“There are two options though,” Matthews said. “We can either throw in the towel or go back to work and get better.”

It’s 12 games into the season. The Falcons probably are not going to get dramatically better.

“I know the mentality of this team,” Matthews said. “I already know what we are going to do. We are going to work at it and get better at it until it’s right. That’s our mindset.”

The Ravens knocked the interior of the offensive line back almost two yards on a fourth-and-1 run by Ito smith on Sunday.

2. Ryan and Rodgers: Back in 2008 as a rookie, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went into Lambeau Field and came out with a 27-24 victory in the fifth game of his NFL career.

Rodgers, who had taken over for Brett Favre that season and was essentially a rookie starter, was impressed. He sat on the bench for three seasons before he became the starter. (They don’t even want to sit rookie quarterback three games these days.) 

Ryan and Rogers have met nine times over the years, which each pulling off a big playoff win. Rodgers took down the No. 1 seeded Falcons 48-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2010 season. Ryan got him back with a 44-21 win in the NFC title game after the 2016 season.

Ryan is 5-4 against Rodgers and has won the last three meetings. 

Both are fighting through tough times this season, while they are statistically playing well. 

Rodgers, a two-time MVP, and Ryan, a one-time MVP, have similar numbers this season.

Rodgers has completed 283 of 463 passes (61.8 percent) for 3,504 yards, 21 touchdowns and one interception. He has a passer rating of 99.3

Ryan has completed 326 of 460 passes (70.9 percent) for 3,814 yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a passer rating of 109.3. 

Both have had shoddy pass protection. Rodgers has been sacked 35 times, seven percent of his pass attempts. Ryan’s been sacked 36 times, 7.3 percent of his pass attempts. 

3. Spiraling: Just two seasons ago, the Falcons and the Packers met in the NFC Championship game, the final game in the Georgia Dome. Since the Falcons’ 44-21 win on Jan. 22, 2017, things have spiraled downward for both franchises. The Falcons are 15-15 since losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl while the Packers have gone 11-16-1 since the NFC title game. 

4. Series history: This will be the 30th regular-season meeting. The Packers lead the series 15-14. The two teams have played in the playoffs four times and have split, 2-2. 

5. Adams is a keeper: Packers wide receiver Davante Adams is having a fine season. He’s caught 85 passes for 1,115 yards and 11 touchdowns. 

6. Where’s the offense?: The Falcons have not scored more than 20 points during their four-game losing streak and have not rushed for more than 35 yards in their past two games. The Packers are giving up 23. 9 points per game, which ranks 16th in the league. The Falcons should be able to find some room to run against the Packers, who are giving up 127.6 yards per game, which ranks 25th in the NFL. 

7. Film review report card: The Falcons aided the Ravens on their first four scoring drives with untimely penalties. The have to play penalty free football. They are not good enough to get another team four more downs like they did four times against the Ravens. 

8. Roster moves: The Falcons placed long snapper Josh Harris, who recently signed a $3.6 million contract extension, on injured reserve on Tuesday. 

Harris has been battling a hip/groin injury this season. 

They signed long snapper Joe Condo, a former two-time Pro Bowler, who’s 37. 

The Falcons also promoted defensive tackle Justin Zimmer to the active roster and waived safety Keith Tandy.

Wide receiver Julian Williams was signed to the practice squad. 

The Falcons have a 4-8 record entering Sunday's road game against the Packers.

9. Depth chart: Beadles officially replaced Garland as the starting right guard. Garland did not play an offensive snap against the Ravens. 

Deion Jones is back at the top spot at middle linebacker and the latest roster moves are accounted for: 

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 71 Wes Schweitzer

C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer

RG 69 Zane Beadles, 63 Ben Garland

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 77 Matt Gono

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert 

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Brian Hill 

FB 30 Ricky Ortiz

DEFENSE 

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 90 Derrick Shelby, 56 Steven Means 

DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, Justin Zimmer 

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 52 Bruce Irvin 

WLB 54 Foye Oluokun, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael

MLB 45 Deion Jones, 55 Bruce Carter

SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell 

CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson 

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 28 Justin Bethel

FS 27 Damontae Kazee 

SS 29 Jordan Richards, 41 Sharrod Neasman 

SPECIALISTS 

K 3 Matt Bryant, 4 Giorgio Tavecchio

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 17 Marvin Hall, 14 Justin Hardy

PR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall

LS Joe Condo

H 5 Matt Bosher 

About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons Beat Writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was one of the lead writers in the notorious Michael Vick...
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