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Injury to Falcons' Baker gives Svitek opportunity

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
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Posted Nov. 05, 2011 @ 8:43 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

Falcons QB Matt Ryan has not performed at the level he hoped to in his fourth season, but the shaky pass protection he's received, particularly in the first three games, played a role in a first half that didn't go according to plan for Atlanta.

Ryan has been sacked 18 times through seven games, putting him on pace to be sacked 41 times. The most he's been sacked in a season is 23 times (2010), and he was sacked 42 times in the last two seasons combined. He hasn't been taking care of the ball as well as he did a season ago, and there's no doubt the pounding he took contributed to the problem. Ryan has already matched his career high in fumbles lost (three). He has eight interceptions after throwing nine all of last season.

The protection for Ryan has improved over the course of the first half — 13 of the 18 sacks were made in the first three games — and much of the blame for the breakdowns vs. the pass rush has been directed toward OLT Sam Baker. Head coach Mike Smith announced this week that Baker would be out 3-4 weeks with a back injury, which will give Will Svitek, who did a nice job starting in place of Baker vs. the Lions in Week Seven, an opportunity to fill in as Ryan's blind-side protector. Atlanta has confidence in Svitek, a sixth-year veteran in his third season with the team. He was being used as an extra tight end in the power package prior to Baker's injury and was given a chance to compete against Baker for the starting job heading into Week Four, but the coaching staff opted to keep Baker in place.

It wouldn't be surprising if Svitek, a sixth-round pick of the Chiefs in 2005, played his way into becoming the full-time starter at the position, and it wouldn't be the first time a player has lost his job to injury, but league evaluators say the singling out of Baker isn't fair.

In fact, ORT Tyson Clabo has given up a team-high five sacks, according to STATS LLC, while Baker has allowed three.

The Falcons may be cool to the idea of tinkering with the O-line if it performs well over the next few weeks, but Baker's status as a former first-round pick could be a factor in the decision-making process.

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