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Film Room: Something Wicked Comes This Way, Part 1

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The Philadelphia Eagles enter their Divisional Round playoff game with the Atlanta Falcons with a deadly serious threat to defend. Falcons’ WR Julio Jones is arguably the best wide receiver in the league, one that has torched the Eagles for big numbers in the past.

While Jones has caught slightly more passes for more yards than last year, he’s also played in two more games, and with his lowest touchdown total (3) since a five game season in 2013, you could call this a down year. One of the causes is the lack of red zone success. In 2015 Jones was targeted 21 times in the red area, hauling in 12 catches for 83 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s a very respectable output. What about 2016 and 2017?

In 2016 there were 86 other players with more red zone targets than Jones, a criminal offense in most states. In 2017 he’s been targeted a healthy 18 times, but his catch rate of 27.8% highlights new Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s inability to effectively utilize his best weapon when the field gets compressed.

Looking back at his career history against the Eagles and removing his second career NFL game in 2011, Jones averages 10.6 targets, 8 receptions, 133 yards, and 1 touchdown. In their 2016 Week 10 game in Philadelphia, Jones had himself a day with 10 catches on 16 targets for 135 yards, but was kept from the end zone, had his lowest yards per target of the three games cited (8.44), and didn’t receive a single red zone target.

I scouted him in the summer for the Scouting Academy as one of the examples of how the position should be played.

The first thing that stood out to me was his ability to release off the line against press. From a nasty split (lined up inside the numbers), Jones works a stutter release and gets the cornerback to open his hips to the outside. Jones then targets the inside elbow with active hands, giving him clearance to replace the cornerbacks’ near hip/foot with his own hip/foot. This is a textbook example of releasing through a press corner, not around him.

From there his play strength and 4.34 speed are on display, throwing a quick stiff arm and out-running the rest of the secondary while picking up a key down-field block.

This next play, from the 2015 Week 16 match-up with the Carolina Panthers, a game in which Jones posted a 9-178-1 receiving stat line, highlights why shadowing him is difficult. He runs 25% of his routes from the slot and that has remained largely unchanged from 2015 through 2017. Here, the Panthers are caught in Cover 2 zone, with LB Luke Kuechly responsible for the vertical seam down the middle of the field.

The play design provides a favorable match-up for Jones, one that he exploits with his elite athleticism, gaining a step on Kuechly. The trailing safety can’t get over to make a play on the ball, and Jones is a monster at the catch-point with terrific balance through contact.

As opposed to playing two-high safety to try to neuter the threat of Jones, which goes against the grain of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s typical game-plan and sacrifices run support, the Eagles may try to bracket him. In theory, this sounds fantastic, but the Falcons will test this with route combinations to stress the inside player in the bracket, such as slant-flat, curl-flat, go-flat, and so on.

The Giants use slant-flat to counter the Eagles trying to buzz underneath their slants, which I documented (HERE), which forced the linebackers to carry out their flat zone or man responsibilities while vacating the area in which the slant would be thrown.

Bracketing him also doesn’t do much good when he lines up in the slot, where the coverage responsibility will fall upon SAF Malcolm Jenkins and hopefully not one of the linebackers as seen in the second video against the Panthers.

In Part 2, I’ll breakdown how Eagles CB Jalen Mills and Jenkins faired against Jones in 2016 and provide some insight into what went well and what went wrong as we ramp up towards the Eagles playoff tilt with the Falcons. A closing note, don’t fall for the “down year” narrative coming into this game. Julio Jones is an alien sent to earth to make cornerbacks look foolish.

Did you enjoy this Film Room piece? Check out our other articles break downs HERE!

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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