This year in training camp it was Mike Johnson and Sam Baker. Then in one game it was Joe Hawley and Lamar Holmes. Justin Blalock even missed last week and is a question mark for Sunday. The Falcons now have Gabe Carimi and Peter Konz as starters for the rest of the season.
But the problems do not end there. Jake Matthews is going to be a terrific player, but right now he’s struggling. The high ankle sprain he had in week one and caused him to miss the week two game in Cincinnati is still an issue.
Matthews got pushed around last week by veteran defensive end Jared Allen. Before that it was Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants. This week Matthews will face Elvis Dumervil of the Ravens, who will be all after quarterback Matt Ryan.
The offensive line has just been this team’s Achilles’ Heel. But blame general manager Thomas Dimitroff. While there’s no doubt not many teams can survive two straight seasons of catastrophic injuries, Dimitroff has still has chances to improve the offensive line.
Let’s look back at what the Falcons could have done to help the offensive line in the last few drafts. Of course, the draft that everyone looks to is the 2011 draft, when the Falcons gave up a million draft picks to move up to get Julio Jones with the first round pick.
The Falcons gave up the second round selection in the Jones trade. That was pick number 59, which Cleveland used on North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little. Taken 11 picks later was Georgia defensive end Justin Houston, who is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. The next pick, at 71, was Dallas and they took Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray, but of course the Falcons had Michael Turner doing well then.
The 2011 draft was not a strong offensive line draft, but the first round pick Atlanta gave up the next year could have gone to a man on the line of scrimmage. Atlanta’s pick was number 22 in the first round. Three offensive linemen were taken in the back end of the first round after Cleveland took Brandon Weeden with Atlanta’s old pick.
Of course, the problem for Atlanta came when they took two straight offensive linemen in the second and third rounds in 2012. Konz went in round two and Holmes was selected in round three. They were just bad picks.
A year later in the second round the Falcons took their second straight cornerback, Robert Alford from Southeastern Louisiana, with the 60th pick in the draft. There were six offensive linemen on the board that could now be starters that were taken through the third round: Larry Warford (65th by Detroit), Brian Winters (72nd by New York Jets), Terron Armstead (75th by New Orleans), Dallas Thomas (77th by Miami), Hugh Thornton (86th by Indianapolis), Brennan Williams (89th by Houston).
Of course, the Falcons took Matthews with the sixth pick in the 2014 draft. Ra’Shede Hageman was selected in the second round. Atlanta could have taken Cyrus Kouandjio. Safety Dez Southward was the third round pick. USC Center Marcus Martin was taken two picks later by the 49ers.
So Dimitroff swung and missed on the two offensive linemen taken in the 2012 draft and he’s simply looked at other positions as higher priorities in the last two years, with the exception of the Matthews pick.
When you look at the offensive line perhaps having the best season in the NFL, you look at the Dallas Cowboys. And their improvement from a team that had three straight 8-8 seasons to a team starting out at 5-1can be traced to the work getting the offensive line in place.
The Cowboys took left tackle Tyron Smith with their first pick in the 2011 draft, the ninth pick overall. Then a year later they took center Travis Frederick from Wisconsin with the 31st pick at the end of the first round. This past May, instead of drafting Johnny Manziel, the Cowboys rounded out their offensive line with the selection of Zach Martin from Notre Dame with the 16th pick in the first round. So those three first round picks taken in the last three of the last four drafts have become the centerpiece of the best offensive line in the NFL.
Dallas has the best running attack in the NFL, averaging 160.3 yards on the ground per game. The offensive line allowed seven sacks in the first two games and one in each of the last three games. That’s 10 total, which happens to be the same amount the Falcons have allowed in their six games.
But the work Tony Romo is doing shows how well the line is playing, regardless of how many sacks have been allowed. Romo is having a great season so far, and he’s also another reason the Cowboys are off to a strong start.
Cincinnati is also protecting Andy Dalton. The Bengals offensive line has allowed just two sacks in the first five games of the season. They are 3-1-1 after the tie with Carolina last week. Andre Smith (2009) and Kevin Zeitler (2012) are two former first round picks, while the Bengals did well with two fourth round picks: Clint Boling in 2011 and Russell Bodine this past May.
It might be too late to matter now. Dimitroff hasn’t even made any move to try and improve the line after Hawley and Holmes were lost for the season. Can the Falcons rebound from the 2-4 start and make a run with the type of line of scrimmage they have on offense?
It’s doubtful, and you can blame it all on the front office’s lack of attention to the offensive line. It could be the main reason the Falcons are headed to another losing season, unless something changes quickly to stop the bleeding.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.