FLOWERY BRANCH — For Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter it was scene out of a bad horror movie on “Monday Night Football.”
And he was not even talking about the phantom “touchdown” at the end of the game. He fixated on Seattle’s defense unleashing a pass-rushing flurry that netted eight sacks in first half.
Koetter, hasn’t had to worry about that, but he had some empathy for Green Bay coordinator Tom Clements. Through three games, the Falcons’ pass protection has been nearly impeccable as quarterback Matt Ryan has been sacked only four times.
“To have four sacks after three games [is pretty good], our goal is to keep under one a game,” Koetter said.
An example of how the Falcons have been in sync in pass protection occurred Sunday on Ryan’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones in the second quarter.
The offense properly diagnosed San Diego’s safety blitz. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers stepped up to block Pro Bowl safety Eric Weedle.
Right guard Garrett Reynolds and right tackle Tyson Clabo handled a stunt well, and the Falcons successfully blocked a blitz. They gave Ryan enough time to toss the pass to Jones, who was on a fade route to the corner to the end zone.
The throw and catch were a thing of beauty, but neither would have been possible without the pass protection.
“In that situation, they probably have one more than we can protect, and the thing is, if we can hold up just long enough, we feel like we can get the ball out and put the ball in a space for our guys to make plays,” Ryan said. “That’s one of the things that a lot of people never see, but those are the things that make those plays.”
Here’s how Koetter saw that key play.
“Not only Jacquizz, they were in a safety blitz on that side,” Koetter said. “Matt recognized it. Jacquizz picked up the safety. Clabo and Garrett Reynolds both adjusted from the normal scheme based on the blitz. Where we would have been one short, we had everybody picked up.”
The Falcons gave up 26 sacks and 84 quarterback hits last season. The team drafted offensive linemen with their first two picks, but the rookies couldn’t unseat any of the veterans and are being groomed by offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn.
The offensive line gave up one sack to Denver, which has talented rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Left tackle Sam Baker and Clabo have been strong and stout thus far.
“We talk about pass protection being everybody’s job,” Koetter said. “It’s the offensive line protecting, and they are doing a really nice job now. They’ve worked really hard at it and it’s showing.
“Also, the fact that Matt is getting the ball out on time, and when we are getting blitzed, the hot receivers are where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there.”
After the beating that Ryan took last season, he worked on his strength conditioning in the offseason. The quarterback hits took their toll last season. With the added muscle, he hopes to be stronger at the end of the season.
With the beefed up pass protection, Ryan is off to a great start. His quarterback rating of 114 is tops in the NFL, and he has completed 77 of 107 passes (72 percent) for 793 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.
“Our guys have done a great job,” Ryan said. “They’ve worked their tails off up front. I think part of it is really having five guys who have played together a bunch. They understand each other’s calls and work well with each other.”
The offensive line credits Ryan, who is running more, with making their job a little easier.
“A big part of it is that we’re able to get favorable looks and what we want a lot of times, especially when we are in the no-huddle package,” left guard Justin Blalock said. “He’s putting us in good positions to see blitzes coming.”
The linemen know that Ryan doesn’t need a whole lot of time.
“Anytime that we can shore things up and give Matt just a split second more, he’s very, very accurate,” Blalock said. “We have been able to keep people out of his face and keep him upright for the most part.”