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Falcons looking to tighten up protection for Ryan

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Dan Parr
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Posted Sept. 24, 2011 @ 9:41 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

Coming off their playoff loss to the Packers last season, the Falcons felt exposed. Their weaknesses became glaring flaws against the team that went on to win the Super Bowl, and GM Thomas Dimitroff went into the offseason determined to put his team in a better position to compete against the likes of Green Bay.

Adding WR Julio Jones in the draft was supposed to give Atlanta one of the pieces it needed — a field-stretching deep threat with good size, speed and power to pair with WR Roddy White.

After watching the Falcons' offensive line struggle to contain the pass rush against Chicago and Philadelphia, some observers are wondering if the Falcons have an O-line that will allow them to become more of a threat to throw downfield and pick up yardage in bunches against the NFC's top pass-rushing teams. QB Matt Ryan has already taken some vicious hits this season and has looked flustered in the pocket, getting happy feet before he's in danger of being hit. He was sacked nine times in the first two games, and defenses were credited with hitting him 17 times. This, after he was sacked 23 times all of last season.

Ryan isn't used to taking that kind of abuse. He was sacked only 19 times in 2009 and 17 times as a rookie in '08. He had never taken more than seven sacks in back-to-back regular-season games prior to this season.

The Falcons' O-line was missing its leader, C Todd McClure, who is recovering from knee surgery, against the Bears and Eagles. Second-year player Joe Hawley has been filling in at center, and getting McClure back could provide a boost. It appears there's a good chance McClure will play in Week Three.

His return won't solve all their problems, though.

ORG Garrett Reynolds, the only new starter on the O-line this season, is a better run blocker than pass protector at this point, and interior rushers with good quickness are a difficult matchup for him. On the edge, OLT Sam Baker and ORT Tyson Clabo have similar issues against speedy, agile rushers.

The buzz during training camp and the preseason was that the Falcons were prepared to take more deep shots and open up the passing game. The expectation for the alterations on offense may have to be tempered if the pass protection doesn't improve.


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