Jordan makes strongest Pro Bowl case yet

Cameron Jordan made his strongest case yet to earn his first Pro Bowl selection with another dominant performance in the New Orleans Saints’ 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

In fact, I would almost argue that Jordan has made a great case for the Saints’ MVP this year, if quarterback Drew Brees wasn’t such a strong front-runner for that honor.

Once again on Thursday, Jordan was the biggest impact player on a Saints defense that was the driving force behind New Orleans’ victory.

Both have been the case often this year.

“Very impressed, very impressed,” Saints veteran linebacker Curtis Lofton said of Jordan’s season-long heroics, which included another 2.5 sacks on Thursday night -- including a huge one when Atlanta had reached New Orleans’ 29-yard line late in the fourth quarter.

The third-year pro now has a career-high 9.5 sacks on the year.

“I mean, he’s a guy that you’re not going to block him one on one, regardless of who you have over there,” Lofton continued. “They say it takes for your third year and the light goes off. Cam’s light’s been going off and it’s blinking, it’s about to explode. So, man, I can’t say enough about him. He makes everyone else’s job easier.”

Jordan’s other 1.5 sacks Thursday came on back-to-back plays to force a punt in the third quarter. He also forced a holding penalty and pressured quarterback Matt Ryan into another incomplete pass on a third down while the Saints were shutting out the Falcons throughout the entire second half.

Pro Football Focus credited Jordan with a total of eight pressures and gave him his highest pass-rush grade of the season (plus-5.5). That’s saying a lot for a guy who has ranked as their second-best pass-rusher and second-best player overall among 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL this year.

However, Jordan can only be loosely labeled as a “3-4 end.”

The Saints spend most of their time in a four-man front, usually in nickel and dime packages. So the versatile 6-foot-4, 290-pound Jordan has spent a lot of time on the edge.

“I have no idea. I couldn’t tell you,” Jordan said, when asked how he would label himself. “I know sometimes I’m in a three technique, sometimes in a five, sometimes in a seven or a nine. And one play again I was at the nose technique.”

Jordan has been bouncing around like that since back when he played a similar role at Cal. And in the NFL, he’s already played under three defensive coordinators in each of his three seasons (Gregg Williams, Steve Spagnuolo and Rob Ryan) -- in the process, bouncing from nearly 310 pounds to 285 pounds to his current weight of 290 or 295.

Jordan admittedly loves playing on the edge -- something he got more of an opportunity to do last season, when he racked up eight sacks. So he was actually a little hesitant when he first heard the Saints were switching to a 3-4 defense under Ryan this year, where he might be asked to do more dirty work inside.

Fortunately for Jordan -- and just about everyone else on the Saints’ defense -- they quickly learned that Ryan is a creative, adaptable coordinator who moves his players around and puts them into the best positions to succeed.

“Honestly, I think if it’s not me playing better, it’s my defensive line playing even far better,” Jordan said, singling out young guys who are also having breakout seasons, like outside linebacker Junior Galette, ends Akiem Hicks, Glenn Foster and Tyrunn Walker and nose tackle John Jenkins, as well as solid veterans Brodrick Bunkley and Tom Johnson.

“I told you preseason that it would be phenomenal for me to get 10 [sacks]. I’m at 9 1/2 and we’ve got a couple games to go. I’m definitely gonna push for that,” Jordan said. “But honestly, 10 is awesome for a landmark for me, but it’s all about the defensive line and what our defensive line is doing. We got amazing push in the middle, we’ve got Junior coming off the edge. Akiem had what, a sack and half today? And he might’ve got two had I not got there first.”

Jordan has one of the most playful personalities in the Saints’ locker room -- so he’s not above some sarcastic bragging.

“I like playing on the edge, I tried to tell you. I mean I’m big, but I move well for a big guy,” he said at one point. He later followed with: “You know, one was on the right tackle, one was on the left tackle. Wherever you say I can’t rush, I’ve rushed through all of them now.”

Whether he’s joking or not, he’s right. Jordan has been dominant from both sides and up the middle. He’s an outstanding run defender, as well.

The natural comparison is to Houston Texans hybrid end J.J. Watt. Although they aren’t used in the exact same way, their versatility and power-speed combo stands out. Any defensive coordinator would love that combination.

And veteran cornerback Chris Carr pointed out one other underrated trait that has helped Jordan thrive: the way he uses his hands.

“Some of the best hand movement I’ve ever seen, to be honest with you. I think that’s why he’s so effective. People are not used to somebody that big having hands like that,” Carr said. “The thing is, he has quickness and power. He’s not one-dimensional. He’s extremely powerful and he uses his hands very well, and he’s really smooth. If he keeps it up and keeps trying to get better, the sky’s the limit for him.”