Falcons offensive line coach Paul Boudreau did a wonderful job with the St. Louis Rams in 2006 and 2007, leading oft-injured lines to optimal results. Of course, the dysfunctional Rams didn't see fit to hold on to him, and Boudreau's exit to Atlanta before the 2008 season was a key factor in the Falcons' turnaround.
Head coach Mike Smith(notes) said as much to me at the 2009 Scouting Combine, citing Boudreau's ability to implement systems among multiple players and retain consistency despite injuries. In 2009, Boudreau's line has enjoyed consistency with five starters, and the results are bearing out -- the Falcons rank eighth in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards statistic and first in Adjusted Sack Rate, having allowed only two sacks in four games.
What's the secret to Boudreau's success? As he recently told the team's official website, it's about putting a aggressive, defensive attitude on the offensive side of the ball.
"If they can tell a defensive lineman when the ball's thrown to sprint 10 yards and go knock the crap out of our guy 10 yards down field, we can knock the crap out of him as he's running, too. Now our job is to hit people. It's the only job in America where you won't get arrested for it. You've got a seven-second play and you've got 65 plays.
"You've got seven seconds of making hell for that guy. And if that guy is really feeling good about himself and he can pile-drive our receiver or our running back down field, we want to make sure he has his head on a swivel so they can't go for the ball."
Today, those five starters -- left tackle Sam Baker(notes), left guard Justin Blalock(notes), center Todd McClure(notes), right guard Harvey Dahl(notes), and right tackle Tyson Clabo(notes) -- get their biggest test of the 2009 season when they take on the front seven of the Chicago Bears, a newly sack-happy squad equally energized by defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. Only the Vikings, Broncos and Steelers have more sacks than Chicago's 14, and their defensive line stats indicate that this could be a tough go for running back Michael Turner(notes).
But the Atlanta five, also known as the "Village Idiots", seem up to any challenge. And as it so often is, the attitude is born from a talented coach.