Playcalls or Talent: Why does the O-Line Fall Flat at Times?

The seemingly age-old question gets sprung up again as Matt Ryan had to deal with getting hit 11 times and sacked 5 times against Tampa Bay last Sunday. And I’ve just about reached my breaking point as a fan. So I wanted to figure out: Is it the same problem(s) that we can’t fix due to a talent difference or is it us not getting out of our own way?

After watching every offensive snap multiple times over, I have this to say: Our O-Line problems are simpler than you think. And it’s not a matter of replacing anyone either. And once I show you these 15 plays, you’ll understand what our Line is and isn’t doing, and how small the fixes actually are.

No pictures for now. I actually wanted to make an article on time. But I will describe the play and ultimately who deserves credit/blame.

1st Quarter

  • 7:35 – 2nd & 4 – Run to the left by CP for 39 yards

After motion and Kyle Pitts to the right, we tossed it to Patterson. From there, OZ had a great block against JPP, Gage sealed off his CB, McGary ran up to the second level in order to block Devin White, Lindstrom got lower than Vita Vea in order to block him, and Hennessy made sure that David didn’t get in the way. As a matter of fact, Matthews didn’t even have to do anything on this play. Then from that point, Sharpe provided a few extra yards by his downfield blocking.

  • 6:45 – 1st & 10 – Run to the left by Davis for 17 yard TD

Everyone did such a good job here! First, Matthews pivoted Joe Tryon-Shoyinka 4 yards back, Mayfield moved off Suh to the left, Hennessy weaved past Vea to block Devin White, Lindstrom held his own against Vea, Keith Smith providing a push to David, McGary denied his guy from affecting any part of the play, and even Lee Smith had a key block, pushing a defensive back into a bad pursuit angle to tackle Davis, but it was OZ that gave Davis that final path to go into the end zone.

  • 2:57 – 3rd & 4 – Ryan sacked

Although we had 6 guys to block 5 defenders, and there was 5 seconds between the snap and the end of the play, how did this happen?

Tampa had disguised themselves on defense with a double A gap blitz look with both White and Kevin Minter. After a delayed reaction, only Minter blitzed. Matthews, McGary, and Mayfield get a pass on this play, as they did nothing wrong here. Even Hennessy did his assignment. So that leaves Mike Davis and Chris Lindstrom.

Davis really struggled with blocking Kevin Minter, which forced Ryan to move. When Ryan was scrambling to his right, Lindstrom had disengaged his block with Suh, likely thinking that the play was over, then Suh juked out Hennessy, went around Lindstrom (who at that point was looking for Ryan) and got the sack. Minter also met him there quickly for clean-up duty.

I’m going to label this play as a coverage sack (playcall), since Ryan simply couldn’t find a completion in 4 seconds, but it’s important to keep in mind that you must play until the end of the whistle, especially in the trenches!

2nd Quarter

  • 14:55 – 3rd & 5 – False Start on Matthews

They called it on Matthews, but Mayfield and McGary did the same thing.

  • Now 3rd & 10 – Pass to Gage for 19 yards

Pitts didn’t provide much on the chip block to help out Matthews, whereas Davis helped out McGary so that their guy was a non-factor. Because Joe Tryon-Shoyinka attacked Dalman’s right shoulder and Shaq Barrett tried to bend around Matthews, Mayfield was left with nothing to do. Lindstrom gets a pass here, but Dalman was nearly responsible for allowing Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to sack Ryan, had Matt not evaded him and thrown the pass in time.

  • 9:33 – 1st & Goal – Incomplete (Sharpe)

So I typically start looking at Matthews first when evaluating our O-Line, so it surprised me when I actually saw him RUN A ROUTE against Antoine Winfield Jr! This was a rollout to the right side where we had Colby Gossett essentially be our RT next to McGary, who’s now the de-facto RG, and so forth. Dalman immediately lost his battle with Suh, and it caused a lot more misalignments with everyone else. All of this forced Ryan to be a second behind on the play and 5 yards behind his intended path, he had to make an off-kilter stance as he threw and still nearly completed the pass!

  • 4:54 – 1st & 10 – Ryan sacked

Matthews and McGary get a pass on this play. So does Dalman, kinda. See, Tampa pulled a stunt move intended to make Mayfield decide where to go. Suh had bull-rushed Dalman away from Mayfield and Matthews took care of business on his side, yet Mayfield still decided to try to help out Matthews (and whiffed doing so) instead of remaining posted at his spot and wait for another rusher. Had he done that, Vita Vea would’ve been taken care of, since he was the one that the stunt was designed for. I’m not giving Dalman a full pass because he made Lindstrom worry about him, causing him to miss Devin White’s delayed blitz. Dalman could’ve passed Suh over to Lindstrom to recover Mayfield’s error.

It’s sort of been a series of events where if one of them makes a mistake, it takes two to recover from that mistake and then one of them usually makes a mistake of their own out of panic. This wasn’t a talent issue, this was a mental issue. When you give our Linemen nothing to block, they start to get impatient. And these defensive stunts feed off of impatience.

  • 3:49 – 3rd & 14 – Ryan scrambles for 3 yards (Defensive Holding by Carlton Davis advanced it to an automatic 1st Down)

Technically, this play didn’t happen. But I’m including it here because it captures all of the frustration Matt Ryan deals with on a given play. Matt Ryan had to scramble around for 6 seconds, turning nothing into something. Matthews was fine, Dalman was fine, Mike Davis had a HUGE block on JPP which actually caused McGary to be in a bad stance to then help out Lindstrom, and Mayfield once again had nothing to block.

Jalen has the tendency to look to help out Matthews instead of shifting his position to help out the Center or at least keep the pocket formation intact. It’s a simple fix, so why is it still lingering? I mean, if you’re looking for people to block, then look to the direction that has 3 more defenders.

Now that JPP is directly in front of Matt, he had to juke him, run upfield, then slide when he saw Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Because of how long this took, and because of the result of the play, this may as well be considered a coverage sack (if the play counted).

  • 1:00 – 3rd & 6 – Pass to Davis for loss of 2

Matthews was fine, Mayfield was fine (as he had something to do), Dalman was fine, McGary was fine. Lindstrom was now the victim of being impatient, leaving Devin White with a free rush to Matt Ryan. It’s honestly impressive that Matt Ryan was able to complete this pass at all, considering White was draped over him. But it was ultimately useless, as it lost yards.

3rd Quarter

  • 15:00 – 1st & 10 – Pass to Davis, gain of 14 (False Start on Matthews)

It’s at this point in the breakdown where my phone starts automatically filling in False Start on Matthews…

The play itself was executed well, but here’s something you need to keep in mind. The Falcons are still swapping out Centers, which I feel is the reason why Matthews is struggling with timing the snap. In fact, I haven’t even mentioned Drew Dalman’s 2 bad snaps already. Again, this is something that should be fixed with enough practice, since they only started doing this last week.

  • 7:04 – 3rd & 7 – Ryan sacked

Matthews was fine, Hennessy was fine, Lindstrom was fine, and McGary was fine. Mayfield had the much tougher battle here against Suh and lost his footing. Matt had literally nowhere to go in a short span of time.

4th Quarter

  • 14:18 – 3rd & 4 – Ryan sacked

McGary was fine, Lindstrom was fine, Hennessy was fine, and although it’s technically Mayfield allowed the sack, I’d actually blame Matthews for not being on the same page. Mayfield was expecting Matthews to help him double-block Vita Vea, but Matthew is passed them off as if he was looking for someone else. That’s why Ryan went down in under 2 seconds here.

  • 9:34 – 3rd & 14 – Pass to Gage, gains 17 yards

Hey, how about I show a good play again? Ryan is able to let this pass go in 2 seconds, which lets me know that if we can find a receiver that creates separation within 2 seconds, our offense is way closer to being fixed than we realized. I’ll explain more on my Wednesday stream.

  • 8:58 – 1st & 10 – CP run for 8 yards

Patterson actually dropped the toss on this play. But he picked it up quickly, and bursted through the gap created for him. Moving Keith Smith in motion to the right, he was the catalyst for the lane created. Lee Smith, Matthews, Mayfield, and McGary didn’t really block anybody on this play. It was actually the work of Hennessy, Lindstrom, and OZ. Pitts nearly ruined the play, however, giving Anthony Nelson an easy path into the backfield.

  • 7:42 – 3rd & 2 – Incomplete (Intentional Grounding)

Let me just point this out real quick. On this play, they’re spread out 5 wide with 3 targets to his left. Let’s name them from left to right, shall we? Keith Smith, Kyle Pitts, Lee Smith, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Parker Hesse. Really?! The Tampa CB’s were giving away free yards to both Parker and Keith, and we know Ryan can complete a pass to Keith in the flat. Why wasn’t this a screen?! I understand there could be last-ditch movements, but there was 9 seconds left on the play clock and nobody really moved. This play was as much of a disaster before the snap as it was after it.

These were the 15 plays I decided to share with you. Some good, but mostly wanted to cover the rough parts of the game in order to learn and improve moving forward. So let’s recap the problems (not in any order):

  • Timing
  • Impatience
  • Playcalls
  • Overcorrection
  • Not playing to the whistle

How do we fix them? Tune in tomorrow night to hear it from me LIVE at 11 pm EST on the Atlanta Falcons Nation/ Mad Mike Sports YouTube channel(s)!