Falcons offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (left), recovering from heart surgery, watches from the sidelines as his team prepares to play the New York Jets. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Cover 9@9: Falcons rookie tackle McGary leads NFL in sacks allowed

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. on Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. McGary a pass blocking project. The knock on Falcons rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary was that he’d struggle in the NFL against elite speed rushers.

Through 12 games, McGary has allowed 11 sacks, according to analytics website profootballfocus.com, and that’s the most among offensive tackles in the NFL. Overall, the Falcons’ line, which has given up 15 sacks in the past two games and 40 over the season, has profootballfocus.com’s 23rd pass-blocking efficiency rating (PBE 83.7). 

PBE measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed. They've given up 25 sacks according to PFF, which ranks 29th in the NFL through Week 13. (The other 15 sacks are  coverage sacks or given up by running backs). 

The Falcons had the ball with 1:56 left against the Saints in a 26-18 loss on Thanksgiving night. Theoretically they had a chance to tie the game. But realistically, they didn’t because they couldn’t block Saints defensive end Cam Jordan.  

“When you’re down on time and everyone knows you are going throw, (Jordan) is one of the best pass rushers in the league,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “At times we were chipping him, at (other) times, we weren’t. We can’t chip him every single play.”

That spelled disaster. 

“He teed off the rush and they were pressuring us there,” Koetter said of the futile drive. “That’s not the way, when you give yourself a chance, when you get the onsides kicks. ... then to give yourself a chance and not be able to advance it down the field, for sure that’s frustrating for all of us.”

Despite all of the sacks, the Falcons seem to remain high on McGary. 

“I think that you have to realize, even though that was the second time we played the Saints, Kaleb gets a new education every game,” Koetter said. “Going against 94 like he did, he’s one of the best in the game. If you really go back and look at that tape, Jordan was giving him all of his moves. He was bull-rushing him. He was moving him inside. He was speed-rushing him outside. He was countering. He beat him inside once where we could have done a better job of helping him inside on one of them.”

McGary has to learn to trust his techniques, get his hands into players quicker and try to dominate with power. 

“I just think that it’s a learning process and when you have a young player going against one of the better players in the league at his position and a very experienced player, Jordan got the best of that matchup,” Koetter said.

McGary is doing most of his good work in the run game, but the Falcons are averaging only 74.3 yards per carry which ranks 30th in the league. 

“What Kaleb is doing well is there are some really good clips of Kaleb in the run game,” Koetter said. “Where he’s on the backside of a wide zone play and he’s getting to the second level and he’s moving a linebacker 5 or 10 yards off the spot. He’s doing a good job in some areas.”

Pass protection is an ongoing project. 

“Just consistently keep his pass-pro technique, not getting turned and just staying with his technique even when things go against him some time,” Koetter said.  

2. White to be honored. Dynamic wide receiver Roddy White, who retired as the Falcons’ all-time leading receiver, will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor on Sunday. Julio Jones has since past his yardage output and has 762 catches to White’s 808. 

White will go down in history as one of the franchise’s great players. It is no surprise that the four-time Pro Bowl selection will be added to the team’s Ring of Honor.

3. Fewell back as interim. Back in 2009 when the Bills fired Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell coached against the Falcons as the interim head coach.

Fewell, a long-time defensive backs coach in league, will be the interim head coach when the Panthers (5-7) face the Falcons (3-9) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Panthers owner David Tepper fired Ron Rivera on Tuesday with four games to play.

In the 15th game of the regular season, the Falcons defeated Fewell and the Bills 31-3 to improve to 8-7. The next week, with a win over the Buccaneers, they secured the first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.

Fewell, 57, who was the secondary coach, first started coaching in the NFL back in 1998 under Tom Coughlin at Jacksonville. He has also been an assistant coach with the Rams, Bears, Bills, Giants and Redskins. 

4. Who’s up next? Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is the favorite to replace Rivera, according to betonline.ag, followed by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. 

5. Battle to be the same. The dynamics of the game will not likely change much.

The Panthers have a poor run defense that gave up 248 yards rushing in the 29-21 loss to Washington on Sunday. The Panthers give up 137.5 yard rushing per game, which ranks 29th out of 32 in the league.

However, in the previous matchup, the Panthers kept safety Eric Reid near the line of scrimmage and held the Falcons to 54 yards rushing on 26 carries. The Falcons have not rushed for more than 73 yards in eight games. 

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman did not play in the previous game against the Panthers.

“Of course, we’d like to be balanced on first and second down,” Koetter said. “We’d like to run the ball more efficiently and more explosively. We’d like to, if we take more advantage of our opportunities, that are presented to us earlier in the game, hopefully we are not down two scores and we can stay with the running game.”

With the Panthers stalking the Falcons’ rushing attack, Jones and Calvin Ridley were free to do damage. They combined to catch 14 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown.

6. Shot gun runs. The Falcons average 3.5 per carry on 59 runs out of the shotgun. 


 

7. Series record. This will be the 50th meeting between the Falcons at the Panthers. The Falcons lead the series 31-18. The Falcons have won seven of the last eight meetings.

8. Zimmer to the Browns. The Browns signed defensive tackle Justin Zimmer off the Falcons’ practice squad on Tuesday.

Zimmer was the Falcons’ practice squad for the first 13 weeks of the season.

Zimmer, who played at Ferris State, played in one game for the Falcons in 2018. He played nine defensive snaps against New Orleans in the 43-37 loss on Sept. 23, 2018. 

9. Depth chart. Wes Schweitzer, who started against the Saints, moved ahead of Jamon Brown at right guard on the Falcons’ official depth chart that was released by the team on Tuesday. 

It’s been a revolving door at the right guard spot since Chris Lindstrom broke the fifth metatarsal on his foot in the season opener.

Lindstrom’s injury coupled with injuries by left guard James Carpenter have compromised the interior of the offensive line. Brown will likely have to start at left guard if Carpenter doesn’t make it out of the concussion protocol. 

With the release of Jermaine Grace the Falcons are thin at linebacker and minus the team’s leading tackler on special teams. 

If Lindstrom is activated and tight ends Austin Hooper (knee) and Luke Stocker (back) are healthy, tight end Carson Meier would appear to be the odd man out. Meier started and played 27 snaps against the Saints, but didn’t get a target in the passing game. 

Here’s the full depth chart for the Panthers’ game:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 83 Russell Gage, 13 Christian Blake

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono

LG 77 James Carpenter, 75 John Wetzel

C 51 Alex Mack

RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 68 Jamon Brown

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 23 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 32 Qadree Ollison

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 98 Takk McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford

DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat

DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky

DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun

LB 45 Deion Jones

CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 20 Kendall Sheffield

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman

S 27 Damontae Kazee, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 35 Jamal Carter

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

P 5 Matt Bosher

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

KOR 38 Kenjon Barner

PR 38 Kenjon Barner

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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