Last week the Atlanta Falcons ran the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars for 149 yards and two touchdowns. It was their highest output of the season and included a career-high of 108 yards from running back Cordarrelle Patterson.
Matt Hennessy started the game at center, like the previous 10 games, but against the Jaguars, he split time with rookie Drew Dalman. Hennessy saw 40 snaps, his lowest count of the season, and Dalman played 20 snaps at center.
Dalman was drafted by the Falcons in the fourth round out of Stanford with the pick they received for swapping places with the Denver Broncos in the second round. Denver traded up to take running back Javonte Williams, and the Falcons traded back to take safety Richie Grant and Dalman with the extra fourth-round pick.
Dalman had previously seen action again in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, but his 20 snaps against the Jaguars nearly doubled his season total.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Dalman outperformed Hennessy against the Jaguars. Dalman was graded 71.2 including a run block grade of 72.7 and a pass block grade of 63.7. Hennessy graded 66.3 with a run block grade of 70.6 and a pass block grade of 43.0.
Hennessy's grade of 66.3 against the Jaguars puts him in line with his season grade of 67.0 that ranks him 16th of 39 centers in the NFL who have accumulated enough snaps to be eligible.
The move to get Dalman more reps at center wasn't injury-related. Head coach Arthur Smith said it was planned and discussed with Hennessy, Dalman, and quarterback Matt Ryan.
“Matt Ryan was a big part of it. When we had those discussions," said Smith. "I included Matt on that because it does affect him. Like I said, anything we think that can help this football team, we’ll try. Sat with Matt Hennessey and Drew Dalman both. Talked to them about the plan. Think they handled it well, and ultimately Matt Ryan had to be involved in that as well because it does affect him."
Smith was pleased with what he saw from both centers against the Jaguars.
"Both guys are a little bit different players," said Smith. "I thought the competition brought out the best in both of them. So, we'll see what the plan of attack is this week as we put the game plan in. But I thought Matt Hennessey played solid and I thought Drew (Dalman) did a nice job coming in. Both of them have bright futures, I know they’re both playing center but we'll see where it goes."
The competition could come down to whoever does a better job of protecting Ryan. Only left tackle Jake Matthews has a better pass blocking grade than run blocking grade according to PFF. Rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield has been solid run blocking, but he's been atrocious in pass blocking this season with a season grade of 29.4. Hennessy's grade is 52.1 and right tackle Kaleb McGary's is only slightly better at 54.7.
It's tough to push the ball downfield when three of the five offensive linemen are getting failing grades in pass blocking. Even tougher with the Falcons depleted receiving corp.
The Falcons take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta rushed for just 55 yards on 2.8 yards per carry in a loss to the Buccaneers on September 19.
Dalman likely hasn't displaced Matt Hennessy as the full-time center, but he has showed well enough against the Jaguars last Sunday to earn more playing time against the Buccaneers.
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