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Kaleb McGary is the X-factor in Sunday’s Saints matchup

We saw firsthand the major problem presented by the Saints: tight coverage leading to heavy pressure on Matt Ryan. Only one player stands between Ryan and the Saints’ best defender.

NFL: NOV 28 Saints at Falcons Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons play their hated rival the New Orleans Saints this Sunday. For those keeping track at home, that is twice in only 14 days thanks to the NFL’s questionable scheduling. Despite two matchups in such close succession, Atlanta’s tendency to channel their inner Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season has fans unsure what team is going to show up on any particular day.

Fan optimism cratered after the crippling loss to the Saints under two weeks back despite Matt Ryan and company heading into the game with tons of momentum and solid performances (except for a Todd Gurley touchdown that we wish never happened). The game was a disaster in all facets of the game. Atlanta’s defense made Taysom Hill look like a Pro Bowl quarterback while Atlanta’s offense was quickly dismantled after Julio Jones left with a hamstring injury.

Things went south once the Saints were able to shake up Matt Ryan. As noted by different announcers throughout the season, Dirk Koetter loves slow-developing routes even when the offensive line is struggling to slow the pass rush. Koetter transitioned to more max protect formations while sending only a few pass catchers on routes into double coverage. Ryan, stuck with nowhere to throw, had to hold onto the football until the blocking fell apart.

This may remind fans that Thomas Dimitroff’s last mission was to fix the offensive line, a reoccurring and constant problem during Ryan’s career. The problem has not been solved, as Cameron Jordan notched 3 of his 6.5 sacks this season in one game against Ryan.

The man responsible for those 3 sacks, and containing Jordan again, is former first-round pick Kaleb McGary. McGary, fully embodying the Jekyll and Hyde mantra of the Falcons, shut down Jordan for 0 sacks in his first game ever against Jordan for an upset win. Weeks later, McGary gave up four sacks for a bad loss.

Kynan Forney, former Pro Bowl guard for the Atlanta Falcons and current coach at DASH Performance trained both McGary and Chris Lindstrom in the offseason. He had one piece of advice for the sophomore tackle ahead of Sunday’s matchup: “McGary needs to do his technical things, change up his sets — but at the end of the day he needs to have that bar room brawl mentality.”

Fans have not seen too many “bar room brawls” that harken back to the times of Harvey Dahl, a player who never stopped blocking when the refs blew the whistle. He was flagged often. That early Mike Smith offensive line was rarely better than their opponents but it frequently frustrated opposing defenders.

“The main thing I would tell Kaleb McGary is to be aggressive with him the whole time. Even have to be a little pushy after the whistle, because over time it’ll get Cam Jordan to where he’s more worried about fighting McGary than focusing on getting Matt Ryan. I’m not telling anyone to go out and start a fight, but go out and start a fight.“

Forney used this tactic back in his time with the Falcons, especially when playing against a top defender.

“I’d sometimes head into games knowing it’s going to be that kind of week because the other guy is a little more talented than me, has a few more years of experience than me, and I know that all I have going for me is how aggressive I get with him.”

This matchup may be the best indicator for who wins Sunday’s game. If Jordan can’t get to Matt Ryan, the passing game should perform well and the Falcons can score points. If Jordan has another multi-sack game, the Falcons are almost certainly going to be swept by the Saints.

Jordan is no chump even if he is the league’s corniest trash talker. If the Falcons gets behind, McGary is the only player who can keep Jordan from wreaking havoc on Ryan.