Julio Jones has had a special year so far (ground breaking analysis). Through three games, he leads the NFL in catches, targets, and yards.
If you want to get more analytical, he grades out as Pro Football Focus’ top rated wide receiver, has a QB rating of 140.3 when thrown at (4th behind Larry Fitzgerald, Rishard Matthews, and Randal Cobb: all have considerably less targets), and is second in yards per route run (behind Antonio Brown).
Next week the Falcons play the Texans, and Jones will go against Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph who have graded out poorly by Pro Football Focus through the first three weeks of the season, which isn’t very good when you consider that the Texans have played the Chiefs, Panthers, and Buccaneers in their first three games (18th, 26th, and 27th in passing yards per game respectively).
After the Falcons square off against the Texans, Julio Jones will have most likely provided us with many more highlight real plays to analyze, but, until then, I thought we could take a deeper look at what he did against the Cowboys last Sunday.
(Falcons: 17 – Cowboys: 28) 1st and 10 – 9:07 in the 3rd
- Falcons line up in 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end).
- Cowboys run Cover-1 over the top with Barry Church and Kyle Wilber in the flats. Brandon Carr (over Jones) and Morris Claiborne (over Leonard Hankerson, lined up as the split end) keep outside leverage.
- Falcons go max protection and leave Patrick DiMarco, Jacob Tamme, and Levine Toilolo in pass protect off of the fake outside zone.
- FS for the Cowboys, J.J. Wilcox, gets a little too much depth on his drop when he assumes that Jones will run a fly pattern and instead runs a post. Pro Football Focus graded Wilcox out at a -.3 in coverage for the day.
- Jones gets an easy 22 yards as Carr gets little help from Wilcox in coverage.
Three plays later on the same drive, as the Falcons trail 28-17 with 7:16 left in the 3rd…
(Falcons: 17 – Cowboys: 28) 3rd and 3 – 7:16 in the 3rd
Jones’ First Touchdown
- Pre-snap, it’s clear that the Cowboys are in a man-to-man set, with J.J. Wilcox again in Cover-1 over the top; this is a common defense on third and short.
- Julio Jones lines up as the near side slot wide receiver, which allows him to get matched up against nickel back, Tyler Patmon. In press coverage, Patmon lines up on Jones and never has a chance; while Patmon maintains outside leverage, Jones gets a free release off the line, accelerates into the second level, and runs another post, this time, all the way to the end zone.
(Falcons: 25 – Cowboys: 28) 1st and 10 – 2:48 in the 3rd
- The Falcons line up in 21 personnel, with Jones lined up as the split end on the open side of the formation (opposite of the tight end).
- The Cowboys fall back into Cover-3.
- The Falcons run a classic play of the Shanahan family offense. The play starts with a fake outside zone to the weak side of the formation. Matt Ryan bootlegs away from the fake, and then hits Julio Jones as he moves across the formation—behind the linebackers who moved up to play the run, and in front of the near third corner who is occupied by Roddy White.
(Falcons: 32 – Cowboys: 28) 3rd and 2 – 3:34 in the 4th
Jones’ Second Touchdown
- This is one of the biggest plays of the game. If the Cowboys are able to stop the Falcons for one more play and hold them to a field goal, they will be able to get the ball back, keep the Falcon’s within one score, and have enough time for a final drive to try tie the game. However, Kyle Shanahan makes a great call and, with the help of Julio Jones, puts the game out of reach.
- The Falcons run a fake outside zone to the open side of the formation, while Jones runs an underneath route behind the Falcons offensive line to the opposite direction. The backside of the defense pursues the run, and Jones, with a full head of steam, runs past the backside of the defense for a touchdown.
This year marks Julio Jones’ age 26 season, which, according to research that I did this offseason, is supposed to be the peak age for NFL wide-receivers. Even if Jones regresses a measurable amount from what he’s produced over the first three weeks, he should still be in line for an exceptional season. While the Falcons finished 14th in offensive DVOA under former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in 2014, Kyle Shanahan appears to have made schematic adjustments to the Falcon’s offensive unit to bolster their production, while he also finds unique ways to incorporate Julio Jones into the offense.
Photo Credit: Georgia National Guard
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