Atlanta Falcons

Bigger days ahead for Falcons’ superstar WR Julio Jones

September 11, 2016: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) in the end zone after a second half touchdown in the game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers defeat the Falcons 31 - 24 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA. (Photos by Frank Mattia/Iconsports Wire)
Frank Mattia/Iconsports Wire

There was plenty of talk in the preseason about the possibility of Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones becoming the first player in history to record a 2,000-yard receiving season.

So what the heck happened Monday night was Jones as held to one catch for 16 yards in a 45-32 win over the Saints? Although he was seen limping around, Jones said his health is fine.

“I’m not injured or anything like that,’’ Jones told reporters.

No, Jones is right. There is another reason why his numbers aren’t off the charts even when he plays a lousy defense like New Orleans. That’s because teams are devoting so much defensive attention to Jones that they’re slowing him down. While it may seem like a bad thing that the league’s best receiver has been much quieter than expected, let’s ponder this for a bit.

Was it really a bad thing that Jones was held to just one catch against the Saints. No, the Falcons won the game and scored 45 points, which is an impressive showing no matter how you look at it.

Jones was targeted only seven times, but the rest of the Atlanta skill-position players picked up the slack. Jones doesn’t mind.

“That’s my job,’’ Jones said. “(Defensive) coordinators are going to try to take me away or they are going to put two guys on me or three guys depending on who we are playing. So, I’m doing my job. That’s all that I can do and we are winning. As long as we are winning football games and they are doing that, I’m happy with it and playing my role.’’

Jones is right. The Falcons are 2-1, and they’re not relying on Jones as a one-man offense like they did last year. They’re getting big production from young running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is doing his job. And, perhaps most important of all, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Matt Ryan appear to be on the page, which wasn’t always the case last year.

Ryan has been putting up huge numbers. Jones has not, but the Falcons don’t mind. This isn’t going to last all season. If the Falcons keep burning defenses in other ways, things will eventually open up for Jones and he’ll put up big numbers.

The Falcons are one of those teams that you have to pick your poison while game planning for the offense. So far, opposing coordinators have been challenging the rest of the offense, and not Jones, to beat them. So far, the rest of the offense has come through quite nicely.

Ryan, the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Month for September, is off to what might be the best start of his career. He’s completing 70.9 percent and has thrown seven touchdown passes to go with one interception. Although Freeman has been sharing carries with Coleman, things are working out nicely. Freeman still is the feature back and is averaging 6.3 yards a carry with nine catches out of the backfield.

Coleman is being used a lot more than he was as a rookie. He already has four rushing touchdowns and has 10 catches for 167 yards. Sanu and tight end Jacob Tamme have been solid role players.

The Falcons have been taking advantage of what’s given to them, even if that doesn’t include Jones. But that’s not going to last forever. This offense is becoming more diversified and that means teams have to worry about more than Jones. Defenses will devote more attention to the running game and show more respect for Sanu and Tamme. That means there are big days ahead for Jones and he won’t be quiet for long.

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