Word of Muth

Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by Ben Muth

This week I decided to watch the Falcons offense vs. the Seattle defense -- the main reason being that of the four teams still playing, I feel like Atlanta's offensive line is the least talked about. Most people acknowledge them as a solid group, and Alex Mack has gotten plenty of accolades, but it seems like the line as a whole is rarely discussed when people talk about the Falcons offense.

Overall, I thought their offensive line played pretty well against Seattle. I thought the interior play was better than the tackle play, but the Falcons did a good job against a good defensive front. The guys that really stood out to me were Mack at center and left guard Andy Levitre.

Levitre is the guy I want to talk about first. I have always been a big fan of his ever since he was an offensive tackle at Oregon State. He had a great start to his career in Buffalo, then signed a big deal with Tennessee and disappointed. He has been with Atlanta recently, and if this past weekend's game is any indication, he is back to his Buffalo form.

One thing Levitre has always been great at is hand placement and grip strength in the passing game. He has really quick hands and latches onto the opponent's breastplate quicker than the rusher can knock his hands off. Then he has a strong enough grip to just hold him in front of his base and keep him at bay.

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Here, the Seahawks are trying to run a game, but Levitre's punch is so sudden and accurate that he almost stops the penetrator (Frank Clark, 55) in his tracks. Clark can barely even get the level of the offensive tackle. Levitre completely rocks him with the punch and is basically steering him. Once Levitre realizes that Clark is no longer a threat, he looks to help inside briefly. The right side of the line (right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder) also do a nice job of passing off a game on their side.

Let's take a look at a straight-up rush to get a better idea of what Levitre looks like at his best.

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That is dominant pass blocking. The Falcons are going play-action, so Levitre (67) can fire off to sell the run. That just lets him get his hands placed even faster than usual and completely stonewall the defensive tackle (Ahtyba Rubin, 77) at the line of scrimmage. Rubin had no shot. That's what hand placement and grip strength can do for you on the inside.

Really though, the Falcons' whole offensive line is great here. If you had to ask me what they do best as an offensive line, I'd say it's play-action pass blocking. Whenever Atlanta called a play-action pass, I thought the Falcons line did a great job of setting aggressively without putting themselves out of position. Look at the play above -- Levitre is dominant, plus Mack (51) is almost as good as Levitre, so Matt Ryan has a nice firm pocket to step into. And the tackles do a great job of keeping the width of the pocket. That's a pretty looking play, and it wasn't the only play-action pass that looked that good.

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Knocking both defensive tackles to the ground is a great way to sell the run, and it's not something you see every day. Obviously knocking guys on the inside down is nice, but the guy I'm impressed with is Schraeder (73) at right tackle.

On these fake outside zone plays, the play-side tackle always has the toughest job because he's the tip of the spear, so to say. He has to sell the run the hardest and has the least amount of help. Schraeder's hat placement is perfect here, as he gets his facemask right on the defender's (Cliff Avril, 56) inside number. That's a great inside-out relationship and allows him to win the block. This is a good looking play despite that fact that it ended in an incomplete pass.

One of the reasons the Falcons are so good at play-action is because they are pretty good at running the ball. They're a classic Shanahan outside zone running team, and they have two backs who have a knack for making their line look good in the ground game, even when they don't block it perfectly.

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This is a really nice job by all three interior guys. Let's start with Chester (65) at right guard. He does a nice job of reaching the 3-technique (Rubin, 77) and totally covering him up. He doesn't lose any ground off the line of scrimmage and gives the back a two-way go with this block.

Inside of him, Mack (51) and Levitre (67) do a masterful job on the combination from the defensive tackle (Tony McDaniel, 93) to the backside linebacker (who is actually a safety -- Kam Chancellor, 31). Mack gives just a bit of body presence before climbing to the second level. And Levitre does a really nice job of completely hooking McDaniel and creating a seam for the running back. You'll notice they don't get a hat on the play-side linebacker (Bobby Wagner, 54), but it doesn't matter -- the stretch action from the back and the great work on the backside combination are enough for a nice gain on this play.

It's a good thing that the Falcons were good on the backside of the running game for most of the game, because they struggled to get much stretch on from their offensive tackles on the front side of their running game.

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At left tackle, Jake Matthews (70) is getting his ass handed to him by the defensive end (Michael Bennett, 72). He doesn't widen Bennett at all; he gets knocked back into the line of scrimmage; he gets knocked into the fullback (Patrick DiMarco, 42), which prevents him from getting a block; and makes the running back (Devonta Freeman, 24) cut it back almost immediately. On top of Matthews getting it handed to him, Levitre is late off the ball and doesn't do much. The front side of this play is bad.

And yet, the backside blocking, and running by the running back, is good enough for a gain of 8. Chester and Schraeder do a hell of a job of knocking the defensive tackle (Rubin) off the ball a couple of yards and covering him completely. That allows the back to hit the hole at full speed so he can run through an arm tackle. After helping Schraeder reach the defensive tackle, Chester does a great job at the second level too.

This is a reason why the outside zone play is so great. On this play the Falcons are bad at left tackle and left guard, OK at center, and really good at right guard and right tackle. Just getting one good combo block is all you need for an 8-yard gain if the back is makes the right read and is decisive with his one cut. The play allows for a lot of room for error from your front 5.

Before we go, I do want to touch on one thing, and that's the fact that Michael Bennett may have been the best player on the field this past weekend. He got some heat for a postgame altercation with a reporter, but if I played like him, and had it questioned right after a tough loss, I could see being upset with that line of questioning. He kicked Jake Matthews' butt all day in the running game and rushed the passer well to boot.

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That's one grown man treating another grown man like a small child. Bennett is a tremendous player who played a tremendous game. It's a shame that we won't get to see him play another one for eight months.

That'll do it for this week. In the next two weeks, this column will focus on the two teams that advance to the Super Bowl. So let's hope for some good offensive line play this weekend.


7 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2017, 2:54am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by jtr // Jan 20, 2017 - 12:41pm

On that second-to-last play, they leave the backside end (I think it's Avril) unblocked for most of the play, while the tight end over there just shuffles around blocking nobody. Seems like the perfect opportunity for the outside zone's infamous backside cut block. Is the unblocked DE by design or did 80 just miss his assignment? I guess theoretically you could hope to have Ryan's boot action hold the backside end for long enough for the RB to get past him, but that doesn't seem like a great bet with a slow QB, a great DE, and a play that's supposed to let the RB cut back as far as he needs to find a hole.

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3 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by JustAnotherFalconsFan // Jan 20, 2017 - 2:51pm

It looked to me like 80 (Toliololololo) was meant to keep Seattle 50 (Wright) from shooting the backside gap, and when 50 flowed in pursuit instead, tried to come back to Avril as the next best thing he could do.

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2 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by Will Allen // Jan 20, 2017 - 2:01pm

I wanted to see the Cowboys o-line investments pay off, but all 4 of the remaining teams have avoided treating the unit like an afterthought, like a few latter stage playoff teams have done recently, so that's good.

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4 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by ChrisLong // Jan 20, 2017 - 10:46pm

Ben, PFF has Chester rated very poorly in pass protection. Did you see any evidence of this poor play?

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5 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by Peregrine // Jan 21, 2017 - 9:33am

Thanks Ben.

Consensus among Falcons fans is that while we had to pay a lot of money to sign Alex Mack, he's been worth every penny. Transformed a glaring weakness into a strength. Still, I'm very worried about the Packers being able to pressure Ryan and cause problems.

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6 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by atworkforu // Jan 23, 2017 - 2:30am

As someone who played OLine (in highschool!) I feel like Fant is an insult to every D-1 tackle who didn't get a sniff in the NFL. He was better against Atlanta then he was in the first round, but I would still love to see a WoM tear his basketball playing ass down with a ton of gifs.

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7 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Roll Seahawks

by Vincent Verhei // Jan 23, 2017 - 2:54am

Still much better than Bradley Sowell.

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