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

Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

Word of Muth: Falcons Failures
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

If you're a regular reader of this column, I'm going to start by apologizing to you because this week's column about the Falcons is going to be a lot like last week's column about the 49ers. For the second week in a row I feel like the defining storyline up front for the team I'm covering is the inability to consistently protect the quarterback. A week ago, San Francisco was lucky to only give up one sack in a game where their quarterback took a beating. This week, Atlanta was not so lucky as they gave up five sacks and more pressure and hurries on top of that. We'll take a look at all five sacks and try to break down what went wrong.

via Gfycat

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Just like last week's column, it's a running back that draws first blood. Now, I'm not sure what everyone's protection rules are on this play, but I'm 99 percent sure that at least the back (Tevin Coleman, 26) is screwed up here. There are a couple different options for what this protection might be, but anything I say from here is just a guess.

My best guess is that this protection is 3 Jet Solid, which is a half-slide protection where the tight end (Logan Paulsen, 82) and play-side tackle (left tackle Jake Matthews, 70) are responsible for the Sam and the defensive end. The rest of the offensive line slides away and the back is responsible for the Mike and any skinnies ("skinnies" are defensive backs) to the play side. I have no earthly idea why the running back is trying to double-team the edge guy/Sam linebacker instead of blocking the Mike or even the safety that green dogs off his block. If it was Jet Solid protection, Ryan would be hot off the safety anyway (two to the back's side means you're hot), but when you let two free runners go that quick it's not surprising to see a veteran quarterback try to live to fight another day rather than hang in there.

The only other option that makes sense is if it was a true full slide protection and the tight end just went the wrong way. Everyone else is sliding right and he slides left. Really though, it doesn't matter. If the protection is so messed up you can't even tell what it was supposed to be, it is usually going to end up in a sack.

via Gfycat

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via Gfycat

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That's right, it's the rare play that requires GIFs from multiple angles to see what went wrong. This is exciting stuff for Word of Muth. We needed both angles so you could see what right tackle Ryan Schraeder (73) didn't see. You can see the defensive back creeping up at the snap count getting ready to blitz. Schraeder (who had a real rough day at the office) can't because he's staring at the ground two feet in front of his face.

You can tell Schraeder seems caught off guard by the defensive back because he takes a bad angle to block him and then tries to adjust too late. He also failed to alert right guard Brandon Fusco (65) to the possible slant, so that caught him off guard too. Fusco has a legit excuse for not seeing the blitz coming at least, because he was looking back at the quarterback to start the silent count.

I feel like a big part of this column is spent talking about awareness of what you're trying to do on offense. Know where your help is, what kind of play fake you're running, where the back wants to cut, etc. But just as important as knowing what you want to do is knowing what the defense can do that can hurt you. The only way to guess at that is to look around and see where they're lined up. Here's it's a defensive back walking up to the line showing the blitz.

The best part of the protection the Falcons have on here is that even if Schraeder overcommits to the defensive back and he doesn't blitz, Schraeder's not screwed. If he takes too far of an outside angle he should still make contact with the defensive end (T.J. Watt, 90, who would play up the field if the defensive back wasn't coming). So if the defensive end did counter inside, it wouldn't be right away, and who should be inside working towards Schraeder on offense? Fusco, who could probably do a good job picking up an inside counter move if Schraeder just gets a piece of the defensive end.

via Gfycat

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Oof, that's a rough one. Center Alex Mack is a good player and he has had a hell of a career. But in the NFL, sometimes you're the hammer, and sometimes you're the nail, and Mack was most definitely the nail on this one. I will give credit to Cameron Heyward (97) for doing a great job of recognizing the protection quickly and focusing on rushing just one guy to avoid getting double-teamed. I will also give him credit for turning into an absolute freight train on this snap.

(This reminds me of a story that I heard about Reggie White and Sean Jones in Green Bay. When Jones got to Green Bay, he asked Reggie what he tried to do against double-teams. And White said something like, just pick one of the guys doubling you and knock him so far back they can't double you anymore because they're on different levels. Which is tremendous advice if you are maybe the strongest guy to ever play in the NFL, but not super practical for everyone else.)

via Gfycat

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This sack came late in the third quarter (and somehow drew a roughing call) and it's the first one where I think Ryan seemed to be affected by the hits he had taken earlier. The Falcons offensive line does a decent job picking up the blitz here (I still have no idea what the running back is doing), but Ryan looks jittery back there. The pocket isn't perfect but if Ryan hangs in there a little longer, I think there was a chance of someone coming open. Although in Ryan's defense, his receivers didn't win very quickly on this play.

via Gfycat

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And finally we have the last sack of the day. The proverbial nail in the coffin. It was fittingly Watt beating Schraeder to force the sack and fumble. Throughout the game Watt beat Schraeder with speed, hands, and power. He beat him in the passing game and he beat him in the running game. Watt kicked that ass in every which way an ass can be kicked and he finished in style.

The move that beats Schraeder here is a quick a long arm to create some distance, then Watt takes it away and dips his shoulder. He doesn't give Schraeder any target to punch, so the right tackle doesn't slow him down at all as he bends around the edge. Just a really great rush to cap off a great game by Watt.


8 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2018, 10:03am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

The Steelers get multiple sacks here out of green dog blitzes. I wonder how common that strategy is and is it any better or worse than a normal blitz right after the snap. I also wonder if SIS charting makes a note of the difference or just lists it as a 5-man rush no matter when they come.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

We've seen running backs miss delayed blitzes before for easy sacks in this column. Backs are trained to scan from inside to outside, and if the linebacker freezes for a moment before rushing, the back scans right past him, and he'll often spot something on the outside that catches his attention and never turns his head back inside. It's a smart way to beat a player who is a) not primarily a blocker and b) actually drawing a fairly tough assignment.

4 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

RBs who can pass block are such an undervalued asset. Clinton Portis was one of the best I'd ever seen at it, especially for a guy his size.

The only sensible reasoning I've seen about the Pats picking Sony Michel in the first round was that he's supposed to be the best pass-blocking RB in the class. I don't know if that's true and I haven't seen the Pats use him for that often, though.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

Belichick might have been taken Michel a few spots too early but he wouldn't have been around for long in the second so...
He hasn't been either dud NE fans thought in the first three weeks nor the stud they've celebrated for the past two. He's been...decent. Hits the hole quick, accelerates well, can run through arm tackles and over DBs. Not the shiftiest guy at the line (although he can juke in the open field) and at times he gets too upright when he should dive for the marker.
It's not surprising that Michel's responsibilities have been limited - he missed a lot of the preseason and I imagine they planned to rotate him with Hill. Then Hill's knee exploded and he had to be the bell cow. His responsibilities will surely increase in blitz pickup and receiving - hands aren't great but they're not terrible.
I think you're dead right about what BB prioritizes - Michel is smart, tough and willing and doesn't seem to make the same mistake twice. He also hasn't put the ball on the ground either, Belichick's bete noir. Belichick also would rather have a guy go N-S than dance. Blount got benched early in Foxboro for too much side to side and changed his approach.
The Pats draft class this year has been annihilated by injuries. Every player except Etling has missed time and most of them are on IR. Bentley was starting, Wynn would have, Dawson was a regular contributor. All except Izzo were actually hurt and not held out with the Foxboro flu.
#1 OT Isaiah Wynn: IR
#2 CB Duke Dawson: IR
#5 LB Ja'Whaun Bentley: IR
#6 LB Christian Sam: IR
#7 WR Braxton Berrios: IR
#7 Ryan Izzo: IR
Patriots have nine players on IR, most in the league. In their last Superbowl year they had 4 all season. It's no wonder the team took a while to gel.

2 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

Normally, I figured defenses don't try these kind of creative blitz gamut's when they are facing a veteran qb with some all star level talent on the perimeter. I wonder if they noticed the early protection failures and then amped up the violence on defense.

Man, sometimes ben - people love defense and I don't read it as tragic to read an article dedicated to offensive line play showing a beatdown the other way.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

I really wondered how many of these sacks happened because the Steelers pass rush came back from a 3 week vacation, and how many happened because the Falcons O-Line was not doing good. The delayed blitzes helped a fair lot (As did the Nickel Blitz).

6 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

The nickel blitz has been Pittsburgh's absolute favorite tactic on passing downs for the past two seasons. They were #2 in the league in DB blitzes last year per the Almanac. The fact that the right tackle didn't even think to glance at the nickelback for signs of a blitz makes me wonder what Atlanta was watching to prep for this game, because it couldn't have been Steelers film. Leaving his O-line totally unprepared for Pittsburgh's favorite blitz is as damning toward Sark as any of his playcalling issues this year.

Last year, Bill O'Brien's Texans managed to come into their Steelers game even more unprepared; they played like they didn't even know you were ALLOWED to blitz from the slot. Mike Hilton ended up with what I believe is the only three-sack game in NFL history for a cornerback. Makes me think that O'Brien is not cut out for head coaching.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Falcons Failures

Love this column!

My vote on that first sack is that the TE slid the wrong way. Coleman goes directly towards the man 82 blocks. No hesitation or scanning, just steps towards him because (I think) he's expecting 82 to go the other way. Also, 70 pays no attention to the Steeler looping around him, not even an arm reach. He just stays with his double-team because, again (I think) he's expecting 82 to be coming this way and be occupying that space.