Less Julio Jones has made the Atlanta Falcons offense better
Believe it or not, the Atlanta Falcons offense has played better when Julio Jones is not getting a majority of the targets and racking up yards.
There’s been a recurring theme for the Falcons offense this season in games they have won. Outside of the first Carolina game, Atlanta actually flourished in spite of the play of Julio Jones. The Falcons are 5-1 in games where Jones didn’t reach the century mark in receiving yards this season. Make that 7-1 if we factor in the two games he missed due to injury.
In dissecting the Falcons’ losses this season, there’s a noticeable pattern of overemphasizing Julio Jones. The obligation to feed Jones the ball often created a predictability that sputtered the offense, especially on big drives. See the performances against San Diego and Philadelphia for proof.
Better offensive balance
Matt Ryan’s numbers this season have been better when Jones isn’t on the field. Four of Ryan’s seven interceptions were the result of forcing the ball to the Falcons’ number one receiver. Consider Weeks 14 and 15 when Atlanta allowed Jones to recover from his foot sprain. The Falcons didn’t miss a beat as the role players stepped up, Ryan spread the ball around, and two 40-point outings were the result. Some will credit those wins to poor defense by the opposition. I don’t think that’s fair as Atlanta made a lot happen through the air with guys who weren’t on anyone’s radar to being the season.
None of this is meant to imply the Falcons are a better team without Julio Jones. Jones is an incredible athlete, markets the franchise well, and is adored by fans. What we can suggest; however, is the Falcons are better as they have embraced a full team concept instead of relying on Jones to make all the big plays. Many have credited the Lions’ success to a more balanced offense in the post-Calvin Johnson era. There’s also a notion in Minnesota that Adrian Peterson hampers the Vikings’ offense because of the obligation to feed him the ball so much.
There’s definitely a dynamic with some teams where, if the star player is having an “off” game, the team doesn’t win. We’ve experienced this plenty with the Falcons in the past.
Nov 13, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) drops a pass during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Falcons, 24-15. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Utilizing incredible depth
This season has demonstrated the Falcons offense is dynamic for two reasons. First and foremost, Matt Ryan is having an MVP-caliber year with numbers reaching near historic levels. Second, Atlanta has a surplus of talented skill position players, players that have been incorporated into the game plans by Kyle Shanahan.
In their most recent victory, the Falcons tied and later broke an NFL record by completing touchdown passes to the 12th and 13th different receivers this season. Even more impressive is the fact 10 different Falcons have multiple touchdown grabs in 2016. This speaks to the incredible depth Atlanta has on the offensive side of the ball.
Total team concept
Gone are the days when the Falcons relied on Julio to win games for them. This offense functions best when they strike a run-pass balance and all hands contribute to the cause. Again, none of this takes away from the fact Julio Jones is the star. Atlanta’s wins over New Orleans and Green Bay prove his value by way of the attention he commands from the opposition. Julio’s presence opens up the field for other players to make big plays.
But If the Falcons are to make any noise in January, it will not be solely because of Julio Jones. The team will go as far as their current style of “next man up” football takes them.
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