- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Six sacks. Eight quarterback hits. Countless quarterback hurries.
Saturday night looked more like the Atlanta Falcons of the previous two seasons with how miserably the offensive line struggled. Starting quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked three times in four series of work, while backup T.J. Yates was sacked another three times in the Falcons' 13-9 preseason loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Sure, the Dolphins' starting defensive front might be one of the best in the league, led by game-changing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But that's no excuse for being manhandled the way the Falcons were at Sun Life Stadium.
"No doubt we had some (issues) tonight," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after the game. "Again, I'll go to the other side and give (the Dolphins) some credit with the way they played tonight, too. I think that's the number one thing: "Let's go back and take a look at it and go back and see all the areas that we can improve, and that's going to be the sole focus heading into practice on Monday."
The offensive line woes went beyond just pass protection. Once again, the Falcons failed to get the running game going, even with rookie Tevin Coleman in the lineup for the first time this preseason following a hamstring strain. The Falcons managed just 50 yards on 24 carries, and the Dolphins had 10 tackles for loss in the game.
"From the offensive side, I thought we were a little bit inconsistent in terms of protection and in the run game," Quinn said. "We had some first downs to get going to extend some and then a penalty threw us back one time. A tackle for a loss threw us back one time where we got into some negative situations in terms of down distances."
Left tackle Jake Matthews, left guard James Stone, center Mike Person, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Ryan Schraeder made up the starting offensive line for the Falcons. Joe Hawley, who started the first two preseason games, mysteriously came off the bench as Person got the nod. Hawley continues to experience soreness in his right knee, which he had surgically repaired following last year's ACL and MCL tears, but Hawley indicated he would be ready to fight through the pain.
The Falcons obviously missed Hawley's presence and will miss him more if he's not capable of enduring a full regular-season game due to knee concerns. He brings a toughness that was missing Saturday. And his great quickness and lateral movement should be an asset in the new outside zone blocking scheme.
That being said, the problems are much bigger than just one person. Stone, who emerged at left guard and essentially sent Jon Asamoah to the bench, struggled miserably against Dolphins defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. More often than not, Stone got pushed back throughout the game. And Chester, who actually stepped into his familiar right guard spot following Asamoah's demotion, had his own issues against Suh. Plus Schraeder got overpowered at times.
"That's one of those things when we are going up against a very good defense up front, pass protection is a premium," said Ryan, who completed 3 of 7 passes for 49 yards after being nearly flawless the first two preseason games. "We did not do a good enough job with that early on, but that's the way that it goes sometimes in games. You are going to have slow spots and you have to keep battling. That's what Dan Quinn talks about all the time -- we have to finish."