Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers had tried everything to stop Falcons two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones.
He’s tried leaving him in one-on-one coverage. (That usually doesn’t work out to well for the Packers.) He’s tried double-coverage. He’s tried triple-coverage. He’s tried spying. He’ll probably try to tell Jones that Sunday’s game is in Green Bay.
Last season, Jones had three catches for 29 yards in the 33-32 win on Oct. 30, 2016. In the NFC championship game, Jones had nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan found a way to get Jones 12 targets when the Packers knew he was coming.
In his first meeting against Packers, as a rookie in 2011, Jones had one catch for 16 yards on four targets in the 25-14 loss. Roddy White had nine targets and Tony Gonzalez had eight with Mike Mularkey as the offensive coordinator.
Jones didn’t play in a 22-21 loss to the Packers on Dec. 8, 2013. He was out with a fracture in his foot.
The following year, Jones had 11 catches on 17 targets for 259 yards and one touchdown as he led a furious rally before the Falcons went down 43-37 on Dec. 8, 2014 on Monday Night Football. Dirk Koetter was the offensive coordinator who found a way to get Jones 17 targets when the Packers knew the Falcons had to lean on Jones.
Last week, in the 23-17 win over the Bears, Jones only had five targets and caught four passes for 66 yards. The Falcons, operating in Steve Sarkisian’s first game as the offensive coordinator, did not get Jones any targets in the redzone as they went 1 of 3 inside the Bears’ 20.
Sarkisian must do better against the Packers. He’s must feed Julio Jones within the flow of his game calls.
“Yeah, sure there were a few shots I thought that might have been a better call here or there,” Sarkisian said. “But all in all, credit to Julio, five targets, four catches for 60 yards (actually 66 yards) and some big plays for us and (He came) right back out and practiced like crazy. I think that just shows his professionalism. He knows the ball is going to come his way. I’d be foolish not to try to get him the ball.”
Packers safety/linebacker Morgan Burnett, the former Georgia Tech and North Clayton High standout, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that stopping Jones is a difficult proposition.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” Burnett said. “It’s going to take a team effort, a group effort. You just have to play together and trust the guy next you and trust the defense that’s being called. He’s an explosive player. He’s going to make his share of plays. But you just have to try to eliminate those explosive plays.”
You can bet that Capers, who’s 67 and has been the Packers’ defensive coordinator since 2009, has an original plan for Jones.
Sarkisian and Matt Ryan must figure it out as the game moves along.
They’ll have to send Jones deep and see how many Packers to with him. It’s unlikely the Packers are going to leave him in single coverage. When they play zone, Sarkisian has to call that crossing route that Jones took 73 yards to the end zone in the NFC championship game. Jones is personal-zone beater on that play.
A couple of quick screens should be on the play-call script just in the case the Packers play 5 yards or more off of Jones.
Sarkisian wants to get the run game rolling first. He knows they if the Packers stuff out the run, then they’ll be free to double cover Jones as much as they want.
It will be an interesting chess match between Sarkisian, who’ll be in his second game as an NFL offensive coordinator, against the wily Capers.
“Oh man, it’s a lot of fun,” Burnett said when asked what’s it like to play for Capers. “He’s a smart guy. He’s a great coach.”
JONES VS. THE PACKERS