ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons squeaked out a two-point victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday to remain undefeated. Although their record is 4-0, there are clear changes that need to be made with their offensive line.
The Falcons gave up seven sacks to the Panthers, which is more than the three previous games combined. There are a number of different reasons and scenarios behind the letdowns, and we’ll break down each one of them here.
Sack No. 1
Down & Distance: Third-and-10 from the Atlanta 20
Reason For The Sack: The reason for the first sack, like the majority of the seven, was Charles Johnson, who simply bull-rushed Tyson Clabo. On this sack, Johnson used pure strength to collapse the pocket. He got lower in his pass rush than Clabo got in his pass blocking, then he proceeded to push Clabo into Matt Ryan then Frank Alexander came in to help finish the play.
Repercussion: Since the sack happened on third-and-10, in their own territory, the Falcons were forced to punt the ball. The punt eventually led to Cam Newton marching the Panthers down the field to an early 7-0 lead.
Sack No. 2
Down & Distance: Second-and-goal from the Carolina 5-yard line
Reason For The Sack: There were multiple reasons for this one. First, Johnson did a great job of using his strength, again. For the second time it was against Clabo. Johnson forced Ryan to step up into the pocket which led him right into a stunting Ron Edwards, who Todd McClure failed to block. The combination of great defensive-line play was the cause of this sack. Credit the Panthers’ athleticism on this one.
Repercussion: There was no immediate or direct impact other than it being third-and-goal. But Ryan did throw an interception on the next play. Maybe without the sack, the interception doesn’t happen.
Sack No. 3
Down & Distance: First-and-10 from the Carolina 21
Reason For The Sack: This sack was simply a coverage sack. The Falcons wanted to get the ball out of Ryan’s hands quickly but the coverage was such that Ryan was unable to do so. The lack of an open receiver and the eventual pass rush flushed Ryan out of the pocket and led to another Johnson sack.
Repercussion: The Falcons were fortunate that Johnson grabbed Ryan’s facemask as he tackled him. The call led to a first down and the Falcons would go on and kick a field goal.
Sack No. 4
Down & Distance: Second-and-7 from the Atlanta 37
Reason For The Sack: Johnson is the sole reason for this sack. The Falcons threw multiple offensive linemen at Johnson and it didn’t do any good. Johnson’s victim this time was Mike Johnson. Charles Johnson ran right past Mike Johnson, literally right past him on his way to sacking Ryan.
Repercussion: The sack would lead to an eventual punt back to the Panthers, with the Falcons clinging to a three-point lead late in the third quarter.
Sack No. 5
Down & Distance: Third-and-5 from the Carolina 36
Reason For The Sack: This sack was another coverage sack. Since it was third-and-5, the Falcons were trying to get the ball to Roddy White on a quick hitch route right past the first-down marker. The Panthers were ready for it and had two defenders waiting for White. That allowed Greg Hardy to get to Ryan and take him down.
Repercussion: The sack moved the Falcons out of field-goal range and forced the Falcons to punt on the next play.
Sack No. 6
Down & Distance: First-and-10 from the Carolina 13
Reason For The Sack: There’s a few reasons for the sack, some of it was good coverage from the Panthers and some of it was on the offensive line. Ryan can clearly be seen looking for a place to go with the ball, but instead of passing into coverage Ryan did the smart thing and looked for a way out of the pocket. Unfortunately for Ryan, the pocket was already collapsing around him and Alexander got the sack. It wasn’t all on the offensive line, but they definitely could have blocked longer for Ryan on this particular play.
Repercussion: The sack led to a second-and-19 for the Falcons, making the task of scoring a touchdown that much tougher. They would eventually settle for another field goal.
Sack No. 7
Down & Distance: Third-and-3 from the Atlanta 36
Reason For The Sack: Ryan hasn’t made many mistakes this season but this play was maybe his worst. The sack is completely on Ryan’s shoulders. Dirk Koetter ran a play in which he moved the offensive line to the right and had Ryan sprint in the same direction. One would think the whole purpose of moving the pocket was to negate the Panthers’ pass rush, which had been having a field day against the offensive line all game. When Ryan sprinted towards the sideline, he failed to get the ball off before being shoved out of bounds by Johnson. If Ryan throws the ball away, this “sack” never happens.
Repercussion: The Falcons who were deep in their own territory were forced to punt the ball back to Carolina, taking even more time off of the clock.
After the offensive line did a stellar job blocking for Ryan during the first three games of the season, it is clear that there are still improvements that need to be made. With that said, all of the seven sacks that happened Sunday were not necessarily all their fault. The Falcons will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a resolution.
The Falcons face the Eagles, Giants, Lions, Buccaneers and Cowboys later this season. All of those teams have fierce pass rushes. The Falcons have to figure it out and figure it out soon or a lack of blocking for Ryan could the reason for losses down the road.