Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are famous for their ability to take away an opponent’s best player, but the Atlanta Falcons need not worry about the Patriots trying to erase Julio Jones during Super Bowl LI.
An offense as deep and productive as Atlanta’s simply doesn’t need superlative games from Jones every week to win.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Falcons actually won all five games when Jones was held under 60 yards receiving in 2016. Atlanta averaged 34.4 points—or slightly above the team’s season average of 33.8—over the five games.
Some offenses would be stuck in neutral without production from its top receiver. That isn’t the case in Atlanta, where likely MVP Matt Ryan and a dynamic duo at running back are able to hammer defenses when Jones is taken out of the game.
Few quarterbacks spread the ball around more efficiently than Ryan, who threw touchdowns to a record 13 different players in 2016. Eight caught at least three scores, including six a piece for receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
In all five games Jones failed to go over 60 yards receiving, Ryan produced a passer rating of at least 98.4. He threw 10 touchdowns and just one interception during those games.
He also got plenty of help at running back.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 2,482 total yards in 2016—the most in the NFL by a running back duo. The pair also scored 24 total touchdowns, including 19 rushing.
When teams attempt to play two safeties deep, the Falcons are able to both run the ball and expose underneath matchups in the passing game with Freeman and Coleman.
Excuse the cliche, but it really is pick your poison when facing Atlanta’s offense.
Expect the Patriots to force the Falcons to beat them with someone other than Jones, an All-Pro receiver who roasted the Green Bay Packers for 180 yards and two touchdowns during Atlanta’s romp in the NFC title game. New England will likely attempt a number of double teams and bracket coverages to stop Jones from taking over the contest, which is entirely possible if he’s left one-on-one against any of the Patriots cornerbacks.
Unfortunately for New England, the Falcons are well versed in playing offense without Jones as the focal point. The Patriots better be ready to stop everything Atlanta can throw at them in Super Bowl LI.