Rookie WR Jones still feeling his way for Falcons
After getting embarrassed by Green Bay in the playoffs last season, the Atlanta Falcons knew quarterback Matt Ryan needed another big weapon at his disposal.
Hello, Julio Jones. It's your time to shine.
Ryan targeted the NFL's leading rookie receiver a whopping 17 times in last week's win at Seattle, and the No. 6 overall draft pick responded with career highs of 11 catches for 127 yards.
''All that means is we're getting a little more chemistry, me and Matt, with timing, but we're never satisfied,'' Jones said Wednesday. ''We've still got a lot of improvements to make and that's what we're working on.''
Jones and Ryan will need to be on top of their games when the Falcons (2-2) host the Super Bowl champion Packers (4-0) on Sunday night.
Jones believes nothing will come easy against the different looks Atlanta will see from Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. The Packers rank next-to-last this season in yards passing allowed, but Jones lends no significance to such statistics.
Teams usually are forced to pass the ball when they're trailing, and the Packers have won 10 straight dating to Week 15 last year. It matters more to Jones that Green Bay ranks No. 2 against the run and No. 8 in sacks.
Since Capers took charge of the defense in 2009, Green Bay leads the league in interceptions, ranks second in opponents' passer rating and third in both scoring average and sacks.
''We've just got to capitalize on those opportunities once we get them in a game,'' Jones said. ''They're very skilled. They've got a lot of talent.''
Trading up 21 spots to draft Jones six months ago, the Falcons acknowledged that a smothering defense like the Packers' could cover wideout Roddy White, the NFL's leading receiver in 2010, and Tony Gonzalez, the league's career-best receiving tight end, with relative ease.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver from Alabama, was seen as the solution. His size and speed were considered a difficult matchup for cornerbacks and safeties. He graded out as an excellent blocker.
Jones could see plenty of matchups with Charles Woodson, who ranks first in interceptions returned for touchdowns (seven) and is tied for second in picks (21) since the start of '08. Among defensive backs, Woodson is tied for second in sacks with seven and tied for third in forced fumbles with 10.
''He's versatile,'' Jones said. ''You can move him around a lot. Sometimes, he'll do invert, he'll go to safety, he'll go to corner, he'll kind of be a Will or a Sam linebacker. He comes up. He blitzes. He does it all, and he tackles very well.''
In theory, the presence of White, Gonzalez and Jones was supposed to help expand Ryan's options while continuing to strengthen the Falcons' desire to control time of possession with running back Michael Turner.
But Atlanta's rushing attack has played sporadically this season, and Ryan's protection in the pocket was spotty - though he escaped without a sack against Seattle. In the first three games, Ryan was sacked 13 times, only 10 less than he was sacked in 16 games last year.
Ryan acknowledged frustration in the Falcons' inability to put the Seahawks away despite leading by 20 points in the third quarter. The game wasn't decided until Steven Hauschka missed a potential game-winning field goal from 61 yards out with 8 seconds remaining.
''We made enough plays to win last week, but you'd like to stretch it out through an entire game,'' Ryan said. ''It's been one of our focuses the last couple of weeks, and we haven't been able to do that yet. I certainly think we're capable of doing it. There's no doubt about that.''
To beat Green Bay, Ryan believes the Falcons need to spread touches evenly among Jones, White and Gonzalez and give Turner a heavy workload. And Atlanta must stay patient when the Packers change their 3-4 front into a hybrid ''4-2'' look that seeks to free Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews for big plays.
''It creates some problems when you're in your base personnel and nickel personnel for identification purposes,'' Ryan said. ''That's something we're going to have to be on top of this week and certainly something we're preparing for.''
Jones knows his assignments won't be easy. Despite leading NFL rookies with 24 catches for 342 yards, he still seeks his first professional touchdown.
''The game plan kind of changes a little bit, but it's going to take all 11 of us to win the game,'' Jones said. ''All of us doing our job at the same time and being on the same page to win the game. When my number is called and it's my opportunity to make a play, I try to make the play to best of my ability, you know?''