Last Sunday, Kaleb McGary exited the game with what was reported at the time to be a knee injury. It looked catastrophic as he grabbed his left knee in obvious pain and could not put weight on it even with the trainers’ assistance. Thankfully, it is just an MCL sprain and might only sideline him for a week.
Matt Gono replaced McGary against the Cowboys for 57 snaps and played well, especially when pass blocking. It almost appeared that the undrafted swing tackle meshed with the starting offensive line seamlessly. Which begs the question, why hasn’t he earned more snaps? There could be a couple of explanations for his backup role.
First and foremost, Kaleb McGary is a former first-round pick. The sunk cost associated with a first-rounder is immense, so while coaches might create a façade where every job is up for grabs, ideally, teams want their high-value draft picks to start immediately.
There will always be internal competition. The best teams have backups that put constant pressure on the starters. Still, if a first-rounder and an undrafted free agent produce equally, more than likely, the first-rounder will win the job due to the team’s sunk cost in him. McGary has performed well enough to remain the starter after his injury. However, if Gono outperforms McGary in his absence, there will be conversations about whether starting McGary because he is a first-rounder is worth it.
It’s also a small sample size. This week against Chicago will be Gono’s first start, and though he performed well against Dallas, his 57 snaps are not enough to garner a starting role. The Cowboys also feature an underperforming pass rush.
Aldon Smith has been the most productive piece of the group for Dallas, which isn’t saying much. Demarcus Lawrence is off to a slow start in 2020 and not producing like a top pass rusher is supposed to. Gono did well against both defensive ends, but to say he stifled two of the best pass rushers in the league is a bit far-fetched. We’ll get a much better idea of his potential this week against the Bears.
Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn are one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league. Sprinkle in Barkevious Mingo, and the Bears feature a three-headed monster off the edge. Chuck Pagano will surely give his pass rushers opportunities in isolation with Gono in his first career start. Quinn gave Giants’ rookie Andrew Thomas a welcoming party last week and will look to expose yet another inexperienced tackle come Sunday. Koetter must give Gono help via running back and tight end chips, but Gono will still have to hold his own if the Falcons’ offense is to be successful.
What cannot be argued is that Gono provides valuable depth at a position of importance. With him in the fold and Matt Hennessy’s ability to fill every interior position, this is the best offensive line depth the Falcons have had in years, something Thomas Dimitroff has emphasized over the past two offseasons.