You may be shocked to hear this but this isn't the first time a Falcons offensive line has had a difficult time putting up a force field around quarterback Matt Ryan, keeping him clean and upright with eyes down the field.
It also happened in 2009, in an almost identical fashion.
It's no excuse for the way the offensive line has played. They've at times performed well below their track record says they should. Once vaunted as one of the strengths of the team, the unit is a big reason the offense hasn't clicked on all cylinders for more than a quarter at a time.
On Monday head coach Mike Smith vowed to find the solution to the problem, even if that means switching up who spends the majority time in the game, not unlike the competition he created with safeties James Sanders and Thomas DeCoud. DeCoud came out on Sunday with an interception and generally did a lot of positives for Atlanta.
"There's competition on all positions," Smith said. "We've done it earlier in the season at other positions on the team and we'll do it at the offensive line, as well. Again, we'll let that play out during the week and try to put the best guys out there. That's our job as a coaching staff is to make sure we have our best guys out there that give us what we feel is the best opportunity to win."
During a three game stretch during the '09 season, after starting 4-1, Ryan was sacked four, three and three times in consecutive games. During that time span, they were 1-2.
A few things jump out at me when considering this information:
With the exception of the loss of Harvey Dahl, the Falcons have kept the core of their offensive line together since 2008. Even the rotational players like Will Svitek have been involved for a few years. They've performed at a high level before and there's not enough evidence to believe their play can drop so suddenly. 2.
This issue has been present before and the coaching staff and the players addressed it, fixed it and moved on.
Smith and his team aren't making excuses for the way the front five charged with guarding the franchise quarterback have played. He said they're exhausting all their options to first understand the issue and then fix it.
"Not only are you trying to figure that out, we are as well," Smith said. "We have not protected our quarterback like we have in the past and that's something that we have to look at schematically first. That's the first thing we have to look at and then the second thing that we have to look at is the personnel. Right now, those are the two things that we're looking at and, really, those are the two options that you have when things aren't going the way that you would like in a certain area."
Yes, as a general rule Smith is right, the line hasn't played as well as the reputation that has preceded them over the course of three years. But a bad stretch like this has been shown before and they've shown the resiliency and ability to recover and carry on.
The Falcons hit the road this week, heading to Seattle. Against a Seahawks team that has only generated five sacks this season, it's a great time to right the ship. They Falcons have shown they're capable.