FLOWERY BRANCH – This won’t play well with any coach who believes his weekly game plans belong on life’s top shelf, along with quantum physics and atom-splitting. But football really isn’t that complicated. To quote Vince Lombardi, “Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist, but football is only two things – blocking and tackling.”
Which is why, after the Falcons’ most impressive victory among their 12 this season, it seems appropriate to throw a few roses at their offensive line. The blockers on this team don’t get talked about a lot, except maybe when Matt Ryan gets drilled or Michael Turner gets stuffed for no gain on third-and-1.
They’re not unique in that regard. Nobody thinks about the pipes in their house until they leak.
“That’s most o-lines,” Falcons tackle Tyson Clabo said. “Who has a good o-line? Across the league, everybody’s o-line is the [supposed] reason they can’t win games. So we’re not taking it personally.”
The Falcons have not been a great running team for most of the season, and, yes, the offensive line gets a share of the blame for that. But collectively, (left to right) Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Peter Konz and Clabo are coming off their best game of the season. The Falcons rushed for 129 yards and Ryan was seldom touched in a 34-0 win over the New York Giants. The line neutralized a Giants’ front four that buried them in last year’s playoffs.
Ryan ranks seventh in the NFL in pass attempts (539) but only 21st in times sacked (25).
By nature, offensive linemen don’t brag a lot. Besides, they know better. This week, the Falcons could get steamrolled by Detroit assault weapon Ndamukong Suh for a few sacks — between pile-drivers and kicks to the groin — and suddenly nobody would be worshiping at the altars of Baker to Clabo.
As McClure said when asked if the Giants game had altered perceptions of the line being just average, “Well, for one week we have. Next week we could be the worst guys to ever play the game. You guys may write we shouldn’t even be on a high school football field. But we bust our tail. We don’t take this lightly.”
This week, it’s the Lions and Suh. Will Ford Field be encircled with barbed wire?
When these teams met a year ago, the Falcons won 23-16 and it was as close as they ever came to a street brawl. Before the game in the tunnel, they saw Lions players standing in the corner of the end zone, blocking their path to the field. Linebacker Mike Peterson recalled telling teammates, ‘We’re not going around them — we’re going this way [straight ahead]. Get the bleepity bleep out of the way.’”
Then came a game filled with cheap shots. Suh and end Cliff Avril reportedly taunted Ryan when he was on the turf writhing in pain with what appeared to be a significant knee injury. McClure said later, “I had respect for Suh before the game. But when Matt was on the ground, the things he was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don’t do. [He said], ‘Get the cart’ and several other things that I can’t repeat.”
Roddy White said, “I lost a whole lot of respect for 90 [Suh] today, and also 92 [Cliff Avril], the [bleep] they were doing when Matt got hurt. That was unacceptable. … Like 92 was kicking [Ryan’s] feet, saying, ‘Get him off the field.’ … I mean, ‘Get the cart’? Are you serious?”
Suh denied it all. But there has been no shortage of incidents and accusations since. The Falcons said nothing Tuesday to fan the flames. Ryan said he never actually heard Suh say anything, joking, “I think I was too busy yelling at [trainer] Marty [Lauzon].”
When asked if McClure and White would fabricate that, Ryan smiled and said, “They’ve always been pretty honest with me.”
Clabo actually praised Suh. He called him “a throwback. Back in the old days nobody would’ve batted an eye about the way he plays. Part of me appreciates the violence that he brings to the game.”
Reminded of comments by McClure and White, Clabo said, “I don’t need to try to hang out with him or have him over for a barbecue. I just have to block him.”
If the Falcons can do that, the line will be a non story, which is just what they want.
By Jeff Schultz
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