Scouting The Falcons: Expect More Julio Jones Targets In Super Bowl LI Rematch

1,104

It’s Super Bowl rematch week.

Ahead of Sunday night’s New England Patriots-Atlanta Falcons showdown, here’s a look at what to expect from the team that lost Super Bowl LI:

OFFENSE
— The biggest change on offense for Atlanta came at offensive coordinator, with Steve Sarkisian taking over for Kyle Shanahan. Personnel-wise, nearly the entire 2016 unit remains intact. The Falcons rank 12th in the league in scoring offense (24.2 points per game) and managed just 17 points in each of their last two games — home losses to the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.

— This is not shaping up to be another MVP season for Matt Ryan. The Falcons quarterback has taken a significant step back through five games, ranking ninth in the NFL in completion percentage (65.9 percent), fifth in yards per attempt (7.98), 20th in passer rating (87.3) and tied for 26th in touchdown passes (six).

Ryan also has thrown six interceptions already this season, nearly equaling his 2016 total of seven.

— The Falcons’ top three wide receivers from last season (Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel) all are back this year, but Jones has been unusually quiet for a wideout of his caliber.

The two-time All-Pro ranks 18th in the league with 367 receiving yards and tied for 33rd with 25 catches, and he’s still looking for his first touchdown reception. He has just three catches of 20-plus yards so far after racking up 27 such grabs in 2016.

It’s also important to note that Jones has been targeted just 37 times this season, tied for 42nd in the league.

Jones still has been Atlanta’s most productive pass-catcher this season — no other Falcons player has more than 17 catches — but head coach Dan Quinn said Sunday the team needs to get him more touches.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick also pointed out during his Wednesday morning news conference that Jones is an excellent blocker.

— Covering running backs out of the backfield long has been a weakness of the Patriots’ defense, and the Falcons employ two of the NFL’s better pass-catching backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia earlier this week said Freeman and Coleman also “are running much better than they have in the past.”

“(They’re) guys that have really improved the run game and their ability to control the game with the run,” Patricia said. “The thing that makes these guys so dangerous is now, obviously, their ability to get out into the passing game.”

After Coleman left Super Bowl LI with an injury, Dont’a Hightower immediately blew past Freeman on a blitz to record the strip sack that changed the course of that game.

DEFENSE
— Atlanta also returned almost every key contributor on defense from last year’s team. It’s a very fast, highly athletic unit, as the Patriots saw firsthand in Super Bowl LI.

“This is as fast a defense as we’ve played or, I think, we will play,” Belichick said. “They have great team speed.”

— The Falcons were missing one of their top defenders in the Super Bowl: cornerback Desmond Trufant, who missed the second half of last season with a shoulder injury. Trufant now is healthy — and much richer after signing a five-year, $65 million contract extension this spring — and he’s off to a strong start this season, ranking 20th among all NFL corners with a Pro Football Focus grade of 83.7.

The rest of Atlanta’s secondary remains intact, with Robert Alford starting at the other corner spot and Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back at safety. Brian Poole also has been productive in his nickelback role, tallying 26 tackles, one sack and four pass breakups through five games.

— The linebacking trio of Vic Beasley, Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell returned this season, as well.

Jones is on pace to lead the team in tackles again. He has 38 to go along with one sack, three pass breakups and one interception. Beasley, last year’s NFL sacks leader, missed two games with a hamstring injury but returned to action last week.

According to PFF, Jones and Campbell are two of the NFL’s 10 best coverage linebackers. Campbell, who had a costly pass interference penalty on the Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning drive, earlier this week said he matches up well with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

— Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, was Atlanta’s biggest offseason addition. He’ll man the trenches with Grady Jarrett, who tormented Tom Brady the last time these teams met. Jarrett had three sacks in the Super Bowl, and he leads the Falcons with four tackles for loss this season.

ETC.
— The Falcons enter this week with record of 3-2, and two of those wins required last-second defensive stands. The Chicago Bears dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown in Week 1 (Atlanta won 23-17), and Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate was ruled down at the 1-inch line as time expired in Week 3 (Atlanta won 30-26).

Thumbnail photo via Dan Powers/USA TODAY Sports Images

TMZ logo

© 2017 NESN