Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan likely will win MVP honors.
Receiver Julio Jones led the NFL in receiving yards per game.
An NFL-record 10 players caught at least two touchdown passes.
With the one-two running back punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the Falcons quietly have the league’s fifth-ranked running attack.
Add it all together, and the Falcons led the NFL in scoring by a whopping 71 points.
The driving force was the offensive line, and here’s the stat that matters. Left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard Andy Levitre, center Alex Mack, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder have started all 17 games together. That’s a perfect 85-for-85.
“We have been really fortunate to stay healthy,” Falcons center Alex Mack said. “Pretty much every day everybody has been there. Having consistency on the offensive line really enables you to build every week to hit the ground running. Our goal always is just to try to work hard. Every day at practice, we are really trying to come off the ball fast and make practices hard so games don’t seem that fast.”
What does a healthy offensive line mean?
In 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl, four of the five starters played all 20 games, with the only change being Bryan Bulaga replacing injured Mark Tauscher at right tackle after four games. In 2014, when the Packers reached the NFC Championship Game, four of the five starters started all 18 games, with Bulaga missing one game at right tackle.
The Packers have been hit hard by injuries this season but have remained relatively healthy up front. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor and right tackle Bryan Bulaga have started all 18 games and right guard T.J. Lang has started 15 games. Corey Linsley, who would have been the Week 1 starter if not for an offseason hamstring injury, rejoined the starting lineup at midseason and has started the last 11 games.
"You’re only as strong as your weakest link," Bakhtiari said. "For all of us to be out there as much as we can, minus T.J. going down, it’s been very beneficial. Especially for Aaron (Rodgers) and what we were able to do, having all five of us out there."
Green Bay’s preferred starting five has opened the last six games together. The Packers have scored at least 30 points in all of those games.
"It’s been a huge part of our success," Rodgers said. "When you look at the success of most offenses, a pretty common thread unless you’re extremely deep at multiple positions is having that core of your offensive line together for multiple starts in a row if not all 16, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have those guys going for a long time."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy pointed to the continuity of Atlanta’s front wall when asked about its high-powered offense.
“Atlanta’s offense is not only playing great but they’ve done it all year,” he said. “If you’re looking, particularly the first time preparation and now the preparation since Week 8, they haven’t really had any drop-off. Clearly, they’ve been the most consistent offense. Obviously, the production speaks for itself but they’ve been so consistent week in and week out. It starts up front. You look at the number of starts that offensive line has had together. I think that’s a critical statistic when it comes to success.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com’s grading, the Falcons fielded the sixth-best offensive line in the league. They finished fifth with 4.58 yards per carry but 24th in sack rate at 6.89 percent.
“I think offensive line play is really important,” Mack said. “You really set your team up to have success. It’s a team sport without a doubt, but we need to do our job. We need to keep the quarterback clean in the pass game and try to open up some holes and get the runner to the second level. It takes everybody. It’s not just one person really making a play. Why we have had a lot of success is that everyone has really bought in and they are making the blocks. Receivers are blocking great on the run plays and making those small runs really big ones because they are on the second level blocking.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.