2016 unit-by-unit analysis: The offensive line

FEBRUARY 5, 2017 HOUSTON TX - Falcons center Alex Mack (51) was playing with a fractured leg. The Atlanta Falcons lost to the New England Patriots in overtime, 34-28, in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, Sunday, February 5, 2017. Bob Andres/AJC

FEBRUARY 5, 2017 HOUSTON TX – Falcons center Alex Mack (51) was playing with a fractured leg. The Atlanta Falcons lost to the New England Patriots in overtime, 34-28, in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, Sunday, February 5, 2017. Bob Andres/AJC

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons reclaimed the NFC South title and became NFC champions for just the second time in franchise history.

The Falcons, calling themselves a Brotherhood, had a major breakthrough in Dan Quinn’s second season as head coach before collapsing in the Super Bowl LI in grand fashion against New England by blowing a 25-point lead.

The offense soared to new heights and the young and marauding defense made great strides over the course of the season.

We continue our unit-by-unit review of the 2016 team with the offensive line.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

OFFENSIVE LINE

Who: Starters – LT Jake Matthews, LG Andy Levitre, C Alex Mack, RG Chris Chester (UFA), RT Ryan Schraeder. Backups – T Tom Compton (UFA), C/G – Ben Garland (RFA), G – Wes Schweitzer.

Contract/free agent situation: Right guard Chris Chester is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The team tried to upgrade the position last season, but were outbid by Tampa Bay for the services of J.R. Sweezy. Backup tackle Tom Compton is also set to become an unrestricted free agent. Schraeder was rewarded with a five-year $32 million contract extension during the season. Matthews, who was selected sixth overall in 2014, is set to enter the final year of his four-year contract, with the club set to pick up the fifth-year option.

What they did in season: The starters answered the ball for all 16 regulars season games. Mack was the key addition in free agency. He was key to solidifying the unit and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the players. With Mack anchoring the middle of the line, young tackles Matthews and Schraeder continued to develop. Chester is 34 and getting long in the tooth. The team is high on Garland and Schweitzer had a year to develop and adjust to the NFL level. Compton was a steady backup swing tackle.

What they did in postseason: Mack played in the Super Bowl with a fracture fibula and was a ghost of the regular season player. His weakness was exploited as the Patriots had five sacks and 12 quarterback hits. Matthews had two key holding penalties in the Super Bowl. Schraeder left the Super Bowl with an ankle injury.

Comment: Look for the Falcons to try to upgrade the right guard position again either through the draft or free agency. They will also try to find better depth behind the tackles.

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