Everyone is searching for answers about why there’s been a dramatic dropoff in the offensive line’s performance.
We interviewed right tackle Tyson Clabo (he didn’t like the line of questioning), center Todd McClure (fundamentals/techniques), right guard Garrett Reynolds (He’s been trained well. More on fundamentals/techniques), head coach Mike Smith, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Left tackle Sam Baker and left guard Justin Blalock have been noticeably absent during the first two of four “open locker room” sessions this week. We’ll see if they show up today and Friday.
It turns out that the line might be missing Harvey Dahl’s meanness and nastiness.
Here’s how the story turned out:
FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons coach Mike Smith promised a full and detailed inquiry into the play of the offensive line.
The coaching staff, in addition to game-planning for Seattle, held exhaustive meetings this week to put the offensive line under the microscope.
They found some reasons and recognized that the new practice rules, which limit teams to one day a week in pads, are contributing factors to the 13 sacks of quarterback Matt Ryan and the 21 hits he has taken.
Also, somewhere during the offseason, the unit lost its swagger.
Four of the five starters are back, and the only missing player is right guard Harvey Dahl, who was widely considered the meanest and nastiest player in the bunch.
He signed with St. Louis during free agency.
“I think these guys miss Harvey, but we’ve been in the same system for four years and we should be able to go out and whoever is playing, and make it work,” offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said.
But Dahl isn’t coming back and Garrett Reynolds, his replacement, has been solid. There’s more to it than just losing Dahl.
“I told these guys ‘respect everybody you play, but don’t fear anybody,’” Boudreau said. “Maybe right now, we might be respecting people a little too much. … We’ve got to go back to hey, ‘there’s the guy, you take the right steps, put your hand in his chest and you finish.”
That’s how the line played for the past three years under Boudreau and helped the Falcons reach the playoffs in two seasons. Boudreau wants some more of that nastiness, and he and the rest of staff will look at their reserves to see if they need to make any changes.
Joe Hawley, who started two games at center for Todd McClure, can also play guard. Will Svitek, who has been used as a blocking tight end can play tackle.
If the Falcons shuffle the deck along the line, they want to see that “block until you hear the whistle” mentality that Dahl brought to the unit.
“That’s what we did for three years,” Boudreau said. “It didn’t matter who we played. It didn’t matter what they said about us. You knew when you played the Falcons you were going to get hit. We were going to knock your [expletive] on the ground. We were going to get back in the huddle and do it again.
“Maybe we’ve got to get back to that. Maybe we are respecting guys a little too much. We have to get that little confidence back, a little bit of that swagger.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has been involved in the meetings.
“The one thing that we have not had an issue with is their effort and physical play,” Mularkey said. “I have no problem saying that it wasn’t that. There are things that we need to clean up.”
In defense of the offensive line, the Falcons have been imbalanced, as they’ve thrown the ball 112 times and run it 58. They’ve fallen behind by double-digits in each game.
“The biggest thing that we’ve got to do as an offense is come out of the tunnel fast,” Boudreau said. “You can’t play and be one dimensional. If you’re down by 10 or 20, all of a sudden you’re throwing the ball on every down and that stresses everything in your protections.”
In the first two games of the season, the line did well in run blocking when running back Michael Turner rushed for 100 and 114 yards. However, the problems leaked over into the run blocking last week as Tampa Bay held the Falcons to 30 yards on 15 carries.
On their march to the NFC South title, the Falcons allowed 23 sacks and were a finalist for the John Madden’s most valuable protectors award, which goes to the NFL’s top offensive line.
Right tackle Tyson Clabo seemed perturbed when asked for some rationale for the slippage in play. Reynolds and McClure talked about getting back to basics and using their techniques.
“We want to learn from our mistakes in the past few games, put them behind us and go out and put something good on tape,” McClure said.
Ryan said he might be adding to the problems by holding on to the ball too long when attempting to pass.
“We just need to execute a little better, myself included,” Ryan said. “The ball needs to come out. You can’t keep hanging on to it back there.”
Boudreau has little doubt that the offensive line will get things turned around.
“Here’s the deal. I’ve trusted them for three years, and they’ve got to trust themselves,” Boudreau said. “They have trusted the plays and their techniques. That trust is going to make that play work.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog