Smith: Continuity key to Falcons OL

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith understands the importance of keeping the same group together on the offensive line. Atlanta was faced with a crisis in the offseason with three starting offensive lineman entering unrestricted free agency.

But in a sequence of events Smith called the "best possible scenario," the Falcons were able to bring back two of the three free-agent linemen: left guard Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo.

Right guard Harvey Dahl ended up signing a contract with the St. Louis Rams.

Although Atlanta is expect to start two new faces at center and right guard Sunday at Soldier Field, the core of Blalock, Clabo and left tackle Sam Baker remain in place. The Bears, on the other hand, switched four of the their five offensive line spots during training camp, with only left guard Chris Williams playing the same position he started at in 2010.

"Of all the position groups, I think the offensive line is to one that has to have the most continuity," Smith said. "Those guys, you know we call the defensive line a unit, we call the linebackers a unit, we call the secondary a position unit, that (offensive line) is truly of all the position on a football team, the one that has to be in concert with one another in terms of blocking in the run game, but in pass protection as well. I think when you can have continuity there it definitely enhances your chances of protecting your quarterback.'

"That's the No. 1 priority for us in terms of our passing game, is to keep the quarterback on his feet."

Atlanta protected quarterback Matt Ryan fairly well last season. He was sacked only 23 times, compared to the 52 times opposing defenses got to Jay Cutler. Which team does a better job protecting their quarterback could be the determining factor in the Week 1 matchup.