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Solution to O-line woes not on Falcons' bench

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Dan Parr
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Posted Sept. 26, 2011 @ 9:08 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

Opening up starting spots on the offensive line to competition three weeks into the season wasn't part of the Falcons' blueprint for getting over the hump and finally winning some playoff games this season.

Neither was starting the season 1-2 and allowing QB Matt Ryan to be sacked 13 times in the first three games.

The PFW Spin

The Falcons haven't spent much time with a winning percentage below .500 since head coach Mike Smith was hired in 2008, and they never have been two games below the .500 mark during his tenure. Smith wants to make sure that it doesn't happen for the first time when the Falcons visit the Seahawks in Week Four, and he's willing to shake up his starting offensive line this week if he thinks that's what it's going to take.

Pass-protection issues have plagued Atlanta in every game this season and Smith said at his press conference Monday that there will be competition at all spots on the O-line during practice this week.

I guess giving backups more of a look in practice is worth a shot, but I'm skeptical that a major shakeup is going to solve the Falcons' O-line problems.

The Falcons have one new starter in the front five this season, ORG Garrett Reynolds, but the other four starters, including C Todd McClure — who played for the first time this season Sunday against the Buccaneers after sitting out while recovering from knee surgery — each have been at their respective positions since at least '08. They were part of a team that had an NFC-best 13-3 record last season. If Atlanta has any significant upgrades sitting on the bench, why weren't they identified in training camp and the preseason?

Mike Johnson, who lost a competition awith Reynolds for the starting job at right guard in camp, and Joe Hawley, who filled in at center until McClure was ready to return, could get a look at right guard, but the Falcons have issues stopping rushers off the edge, too. They could give backup Will Svitek an opportunity at left tackle. Sam Baker, a first-round pick in '08, has been disappointing and Svitek is a sixth-year veteran with six career starts, but I wonder if the strategy of shifting pieces around on the O-line will do more harm than good. The Falcons just paid big money to re-sign OLG Justin Blalock and ORT Tyson Clabo, so I don't see either one getting benched, and Smith seemed pleased with McClure's performance Sunday.

The only players that seem to be in danger of getting benched are Baker and Reynolds. If the changes don't work right away, do the Falcons quickly turn back to the players they just demoted?

With the Packers next on the schedule after the Falcons play the Seahawks in Week Four, some flashbacks to the blowout loss to Green Bay in last season's divisional round, when Ryan was sacked five times, could be in the Falcons' future if they don't quickly straighten out their issues with keeping the quarterback upright.

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