When meeting with the media for his weekly Monday press conference, Falcons head coach Mike Smith didn’t have a lot of positives to bring from Sunday’s game, a 34-10 loss to the Panthers that dropped Atlanta to 2-6 on the season.
There were penalties, turnovers and misses on third downs, all items Smith said contributed greatly to the loss. On the other hand, one of the more maligned groups on the roster, the offensive line, drew praise from Smith. The Falcons O-line welcomed back veteran Sam Baker to the left side against Carolina and he played in all the snaps for just the second time this season. Smith said he thought the line performed well against a defense that had 22 sacks entering Sunday.
“When you look at positives from the game yesterday, our offensive line did a good job of protecting the quarterback,” Smith said. “That was a front that had been very disruptive. They have two outstanding defensive ends and a couple of inside tackles that can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
While the Falcons gave up a sack and allowed Matt Ryan to be hit twice, they still had one of their better games as a unit. Using analytics from ProFootballFocus, it appears that Smith has good reason to be encouraged about his line. With Baker’s return, second-year lineman Lamar Holmes slid back to the right side and allowed one of the two QB hits and one of the eight QB hurries recorded by PFF. Baker had a positive pass protection grade and allowed one hit and one hurry.
Peter Konz, Justin Blalock and Garrett Reynolds all recorded positive pass protection grades as well, including Reynolds’ output, which was his best of the season.
Smith said the run game improved as well and while they would’ve liked more rush yards, it’s an improvement over recent weeks.
“If there were some positives that you take away from the game: the offensive line’s play in pass protection and we ran the ball more effectively. Not as good as we would like to, but I felt like we ran the ball more effectively. When you turn the ball over like we did yesterday and like we did the week before, it makes it very difficult to get the outcome that you want.”
Steven Jackson in his second game back rushed for 57 of Atlanta’s 78 yards. Jackson averaged 4.4 yards per carry and gained 29 yards after contact in addition to breaking 2 tackles on 13 carries. Sunday’s rushing totals were the third-highest of the season.