Julio Jones had a big day in the Atlanta Falcons 30-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The star receiver caught 5 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a long bomb in which Jones roasted CB Nnamdi Asomugha. In looking beyond the stat sheet however, Julio Jones was a crucial element to two other touchdowns, both of which occurred in the first quarter. You may be thinking I’m talking about a big block that sprung a long touchdown run given Jones’ reputation as a devastating run blocker, but I’m not. As a matter of fact, Julio didn’t touch anything on either play, nor was he designed to get the ball. However, a combination of Jones’ presence and Dirk Koetter’s creativity resulted in the Falcons opening up a lead that the Eagles never even threatened.
The first play came on 3rd and 7 with 6:42 left in the 1st Quarter, with the score still tied up at zero. Before actually looking at the play, there needs to be some background info for those unfamiliar with Falcons Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter. Here it is: He loves the wide receiver screen pass. It’s one of his go to play calls, and when he dials it up, he’s usually trying to get the ball into the hands of the dynamic Julio Jones. Here’s a shot from later on in this game that shows how the play call typically develops (Jones is circled):
There might be small changes in the formation or with personnel, but the “meat and potatoes” is Julio aligned outside with another wide receiver in the slot, who has to make an important block if the Falcons want to gain significant yardage.
Now, let’s go back to our current setting. Here’s the formation alignment on that 3rd and 7 playcall (Jones is circled):
While it certainly should look familiar, and will develop similarly, there’s a very different ending. Pictured below is the play in progress:
The difference in this play? The offensive line. Notice how none of them have released… this isn’t a screen pass. As all three of the Eagles defensive backs start to converge on Jones, we can see from the below image Matt Ryan’s true intention, an easy fade into the back of the endzone to the slot WR, DJ Davis:
The second play scoring play in which we can credit Jones with an assist occurred with 48 seconds left in the 1st quarter and would put the Falcons up 14-0. A goal line stand here would have certainly given the Eagles something to try and build on, even if they still would have been down 2 scores. However, they couldn’t get the stop, and this play really seemed to break their spirits. Once again, Julio Jones was critical to the success just by being a decoy. The Falcons started out in a bunch alignment with Jason Snelling as the lone back. However, the below picture shows what the formation ended up as after the motion, and the routes run:
As the play progresses, the Eagles underneath defenders focus on Julio coming out of the backfield. Jason Snelling, who started out chipping the defensive end, is completely forgotten about. Matt Ryan will just drop it down to him in the picture below, and Snelling will walk in untouched.
These play designs are not just a credit to Dirk Koetter, but an attribute to how scary WR Julio Jones is. Even when he’s not making plays (and he’s making his fair share of those too), he’s still an integral part of the Falcons offense. Under the old, mundane offense of Mike Mularkey, Julio Jones might not have looked like someone who you could justify giving up all of those picks for. However, in this new offense that has been the driving force in Ryan’s 1st half MVP season, Julio is certainly proving his worth. Even when he’s just a decoy.