FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan faced a heavy pass rush from Carolina last Sunday but, in the judgment of coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, it’s not accurate to simply categorize it as a poor day for the offensive line.
Sometimes Ryan held the ball too long or Atlanta’s wide receivers didn’t shorten their routes. Other times the running backs didn’t help pass block or the play called made it difficult for the line to execute. Credit Carolina’s defense, too.
All of those factors resulted in Ryan taking a whacking: a career-high seven sacks and 12 other hits in 40 pass attempts during Atlanta’s 30-28 victory.
“We gave up way to many sacks in the game but they all weren’t on the offensive line,” Smith said. “I can assure you that.”
The intricacies of pass protection mean it’s often too simple to blame the offensive line when things go badly. Still, Atlanta’s linemen have their own bottom line when it comes to Carolina’s pressure.
“We’ve got to block until the ball is gone, no matter what the situation is,” center Todd McClure said.
“A lot of that is on us and we have to do a better job,” said guard Justin Blalock.
The Falcons have spent time this week trying to shore up their pass protection for Sunday’s game against the Redskins. That review involves more than working individual and group techniques.
For one, Koetter said the play calls against Carolina at times contributed to the protection issues. He said there should have been more help for the linemen in protection on a handful of plays and that two of the sacks came on plays when the pass routes weren’t ideal for Carolina’s coverages.
Koetter said another sack occurred on a sprint-out play, when the linemen didn’t have many options once Ryan held the ball near the sideline.
“To say everything is on the offensive line, that’s not fair,” Koetter said. “It’s just as much on me as it is on them.”
The Panthers further disrupted the pass protection by aggressively covering Atlanta’s short routes. That disrupted Ryan’s timing and affected the linemen, too.
“When the ball is supposed to come out fast, they are going to take a more aggressive set and try to smoke [defenders] at the line of scrimmage and expect the ball to come out quick,” Koetter said. “If the ball doesn’t come out quick, you are left out to dry a little bit.”
Blalock said there are times when the linemen can be more aggressive on three-step drops. The aim is to catch their man off-guard, affect his timing and, if all goes well, Ryan releases the ball before the defender can recover.
Still, Blalock said the linemen ultimately are responsible for protecting the quarterback regardless of the play.
“It’s not something you can really concern yourself with,” Blalock said. “Our responsibility is to block our assignment until the ball is gone. It’s not like Matt comes to the huddle and says, ‘Hold this one a little longer.’
“But there are routes and concepts when we know we are taking shots [down field], just like there are times when a guy gets beat quickly. That’s just part of the game. Get up, brush yourself off.”
The Redskins haven’t generated many sacks from their 3-4 alignment. Their season total of seven is less than all but seven teams before Thursday night play.
Washington’s defense took a hit when linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker were both lost to injuries in Week 2. Orakpo was last season’s team leader with nine sacks.
Washington’s weakened pass rush has contributed to the overall struggles of its defense. But then again, Carolina had just five sacks through three games before teeing off on Ryan.
“What it comes down to is fundamental things,” McClure said. “We failed in some situations in our one-on-one match-ups. Of course there are different situations in the game where certain routes were covered. So it was a group effort and we are going to get it fixed.”