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The Road to the Super Bowl Always Starts in the Trenches

Odd, isn't it?  When you look at the most successful teams in football (both NFL and major college), that the one common denominator is the play of the offensive line.

If the Falcons win Super Bowl LI, we will sing the praises of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and more, as well we should.  But the heroes will still be the guys on the offensive line.  Just ask the aforementioned "skilled players" since they are the ones who touch the ball!

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons
If big Jake Matthews has a good day protecting the "Blind Side," then the Falcons will have a good day. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The stat that hits you squarely between the eyes is one reported recently by David Newton of ESPN.  Newton reports that RT Ryan Schraeder and RG Chris Chester have played every down this season. LT Jake Matthews has played 95 percent of the time.  Center Alex Mack and LG Andy Levitre have each played 98 percent of the snaps taken.  That is staggering.  And that is a recipe for success.  Newton reports that last season, the Carolina Panthers o-line was pretty much intact all season, with only two of five linemen missing a total of four starts.  And what did the Panthers do last season?  Made it all the way to the BIG GAME, of course.  One note, Mack has been missing practices this week because of a fibula injury, and that is a big concern.  However, odds are the leader of the o-line, unless the injury is severe, will not miss this game.

On Sunday, the five who make up the Falcons offensive line will face a great challenge.  First of all, this is the BIG GAME, and that is a challenge in and of itself.  Players who have not been here before will notice how different this week is.  Distractions?  It's an over-used term in pro sports, but yes, there are plenty more distractions.  However, when all the pre-game hype, talk and practices are done, Sunday will become just another football game.  Nothing different from how it is played in the regular season, EXCEPT the o-line will be facing one of the best defenses in football.  The Patriots rank 8th in the NFL in Total Defense, 12th in passing defense and 3rd in rushing defense.  Don't roll your eyes at this.  Numbers mean something.  Falcons' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has already been quoted as saying the New England defense is the "best we have seen all year."

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, celebrating with Matt Ryan #2 after defeating the Packers, says the New England defense is the "best we have seen all season." (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In the Super Bowl one year ago, the Panthers' offense had basically an injury-free offensive line. But they were stopped by a solid, overwhelming Denver Broncos defense.  As we have noted, there are a lot of similarities between the Falcons and Panthers heading into Sunday's game.  However, I do think Ryan is a better quarterback than Cam Newton. (He obviously has better taste in post-game attire!) Also, I feel the Falcons have a much better defense than Carolina had one year ago.

Is this the formula for a Super Bowl LI win?  Could be. But I do challenge you to do this:  On a few plays this Sunday, between the endless food and drink, watch the Falcons' offensive line.  Notice if they are quick enough to cover the stunts of the Patriots' defensive line.  See if they give Ryan plenty of time. Also, notice if they open holes for Freeman and Coleman.  Don't wait for the endless replays to show you. Watch it as it happens. It will be the barometer for who will win the game.

More times than not, the team that blocks the best, wins the most. It's all part of the "brotherhood."

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