As the last quarter of the 2019 NFL season approaches, there are certain things that remain true, no matter the era. One quote is generally true is, “It’s not the X’s and the O’s but the Jimmys and the Joes.” It’s not clear who originally said that, but it’s often attributed to former Texas Longhorns head coach Darrell K. Royal. Who said it isn’t important. What is important is that the quote is right on the money. Can my Jimmys block their Joes? One of the direct sources of frustration for the 2019 Atlanta Falcons has been a carryover from the 2018 season: horrific offensive line play.
This year, the Falcons offensive line has given up 40 sacks this season (3.3 per game). Last year, Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times in 16 games (2.625 sacks per game). For those who appreciate analytics, Falcons quarterbacks have been sacked 7.77% of the time per pass attempt. The additions of guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown have had underwhelming results. Brown signed a three-year, $18.75 million deal ($12.75 million guaranteed), and Carpenter signed a four-year, $21 million deal ($9.25 million guaranteed). The offensive line, with a combined cap number of $36,742,347, accounts for 21.9% of the team’s total cap this season. Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews lead the way with cap numbers of $11.05 million and $7.597 million, respectively.
Throwing money at the problem has not solved the issues for the Falcons.
Moreover, first round draft pick Chris Lindstrom was activated from injured reserve this week after suffering from a foot injury in week one against the Minnesota Vikings. However, Kaleb McGary’s season has been solid, considering he’s had a heart procedure and a knee injury since he joined the team and didn’t miss any games.
“What I love about him is that he is all-day tough – heart procedure, knee injury, and he did not miss any snaps (he did miss some, though not any games),” head coach Dan Quinn said. “That is really what you look for in that position due to the toughness of that. You are going to have tough moments, but you want to look at how players respond.
“Due to the injuries that he has had, he has already had to respond to some adversity.”
Against the Los Angeles Rams, the Falcons gave up five sacks. Nov. 25, the Falcons gave up six sacks against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. More troubling, the Falcons gave up nine sacks and Ryan was hit thirteen times in their loss at home against the New Orleans Saints Thanksgiving night. That loss sealed the division for the Saints and eliminated the Falcons from playoff contention. The bottom line is the renovation project of Atlanta’s offensive line has been a shambolic failure.
“Like most things, we’re going to look at it,” Quinn said of the offensive line Nov. 25. “If there are personnel moves to make, we’ll certainly be bold enough to do that. But, more often than not, it seems like it’s one [issue], but it’s usually [more]. I don’t think we played particularly well, offensively. [The offensive line] was the highlight, but there’s a lot of factors I thought that went into it.”
While the defense had their part to play in this lost season, the Falcons are averaging 74.2 yards rushing per game, ranking 30th in the National Football League.
This week, the Falcons will face the Carolina Panthers who, may in fact, have a worse offensive line. They’ve given up 45 sacks this season (3.8 sacks per game). For those who appreciate analytics, the Panthers’ offensive line has given up a sack on 9.87% of total dropbacks.
“They’re all disappointing. … These guys are doing the best they can,” Rivera said Sunday after the 29-21 loss against the Washington Redskins. “The coaching staff is working their asses off and you look at the mix of players they’ve had to deal with, the guys they’ve tried to work with, I think our guys are doing the things they need to do to give themselves the best chance to win. Are there some things we need to do differently? Probably. That we’re going to look at and try to correct? Probably. Are there things we’re doing well that we’re going to continue and try to do well? Absolutely.”
Suffice to say, the winner of Sunday’s game will be based on which quarterback remains the cleanest. However, the foundation of football remains the same: can you block the man in front of you, or nah?