We are hours away from the Philadelphia Eagles first playoff game since 2013. That game ended in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, one which I re-told for Locked On Eagles (here). With the Atlanta Falcons coming to town, the Eagles will be tasked with containing alien WR Julio Jones, or they will find themselves exiting the postseason as a one-and-done.
In Part 1 of Something Wicked Comes This Way, I highlighted some aspects of Jones’ game that makes him such an elite threat. In Part 2, I will detail the manner in which Jones was deployed against the Eagles in their 2016 tilt. The Eagles came away with a 23-15 win, but still struggled to keep Jones under wraps, surrendering 10 catches and 135 to the world class wide-out.
With an increased focus on Jones against Eagles currently on the roster, the following attempts to demonstrate what went well in regard to defend Jones in that game, what went wrong, and what to expect.
On the second play of the 2016 Eagles-Falcons game, the Falcons utilize a slant-flat concept to provide QB Matt Ryan (#2) with a high percentage rhythm throw. I explained this concept in The Good, Slants, and the Sluggo article:
“The Giants would counter the hook zone with a slant-flat and it’s a good call as a natural counter to a team trying to drop an LB under the slant and aid the CB.
First, it typically forces the LB to void the area that would disrupt the slant read. Second, it creates a natural rub, or “pick”, depending on how you view these types of things.
The routes intersect so close to each other that one or both defenders may need to actively avoid each other, or even a receiver entering their area. This creates the potential for a clean look and yards after catch if a defender is unable to work through the trash and stick to his coverage responsibility. Simple concept, high percentage throw…”
1st Quarter 14:13, 2nd & 6, ATL 22
With the LB carrying the motion and flat route of the RB, Ryan has a clear void in which to throw the slant. WR Julio Jones (#11) has sweet feet that enable him to win early with his release. He causes CB Jalen Mills (#31) to open his hips towards the boundary, creating a window to dart through and obtain a clean inside release on the slant. Mills recovers well but is boxed out from the throw and is unable to make a play on the ball.
In the same drive they would identify Jones matched up with CB Nolan Carroll with a single-high safety. On 3rd & 7, Ryan chucked one deep, but Carroll had tight coverage and the ball was slightly overthrown, leading to an incompletion and a punt.
3rd Quarter 8:16, 1st & 10, ATL 25 (10-6 PHI)
The pre-snap Z WR “orbit” motion, mixed with the play-action creates an interesting reaction from the Eagles. They rotate from two-high safeties and both the field side nickel and safety come screaming downhill.
The Falcons are running are running a “Yankee” concept with a vertical round on the field side and a deep over route coming from the Jones on the boundary side. The play-action is designed to bait the linebackers and create a large void for the over route, which it does effectively on this play. Jones again gets Mills to slightly open his hips to the boundary and that’s all he needs to run away from him for a long completion.
4th Quarter 6:41, 1st & 10, ATL 12 (21-15 PHI)
The Falcons condense their formation by bringing in two tight ends on either side of the line and aligning both wide receivers in “nasty splits” (lined up inside of the numbers). They then use a mirrored concept with the tight ends running curls and the wide receivers running outs to stretch the Eagles defense horizontally.
With Mills having outside leverage, he shuffles instead of backpedaling, trying to maintain said leverage. Jones darts to his blind spot and finds ample real estate for any easy pitch-and-catch.
4th Quarter 6:33, 2nd & 1, ATL 20 (21-15 PHI)
On the very next play, Jones beats Mills from a “plus split” (line up outside of the numbers) by winning on inside route from an outside release. Usually if a wide receiver releases to the outside, he has two main options: go route or comeback route. Instead, Jones chops Mills inside arm, playing physical throughout his route stem, and uses his speed to simply beat Mills to the spot and breaking free inside.
Mills is there to make a play, but gets grabby with Jones creating separation at the catch-point, leading to a pass interference call.
4th Quarter 2:24, 4th & 5, ATL 40 (21-15 PHI)
I added this clip not only for its importance in the game itself, but also to highlight how Jones will be deployed by the Falcons. Jones runs a fourth of his routes from the slot and could end up seeing SAF Malcolm Jenkins. In a key situation, Jenkins does a good job staying in Jones’ hip pocket from a trail position with safety help over top. He also does well to be hands on without drawing a penalty and effectively limits the window in which Ryan has to throw.
This causes Ryan to throw behind Jones, who is unable, despite his excellent body control and strong hands, to haul in the pass.
Despite the production, Jones was kept out of the end zone. He also didn’t receive a single red zone target, something the Falcons have unsuccessfully tried to rectify this year under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Matt Ryan hit Jones with some well placed throws, allowing Jones to haul catches in from tight windows, but overall the Eagles cornerbacks played well enough to at least make a play on the ball or the man. At no point were they out of the play entirely, an encouraging sign for a secondary prone to giving up separation. Still, they will have to be technically sound for 60 minutes on Saturday, or a big play is inevitable.
Making the leap to stardom
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Carson Wentz speaking out about the death of George Floyd shows his evolution as a leader
Which Eagles will make the leap into star status in 2020?
A look at multiple offensive players that have what it takes
Overlooked role players for 2020
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Which Eagles aren’t we talking about enough that could be big time contributors next season?
A look at the more underrated role players on offense and defense
Did the NFL make a mistake not approving the Eagles onside kick alternative?
Favorite Eagles one-year wonders
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Who were the best Eagles that only played one season with the team?
What current or former Eagle did you irrationally fanboy over?
Do the Eagles have the upper hand with the virtual offseason format?