Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is still hampered by an injured ankle. Facing a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad on Sunday, the Falcons' offense will need all the help it can get, and Jones might be Atlanta's most versatile weapon on offense. If Jones is less than 100 percent, though, will he still be a viable option?
Throw Stats out the Window
Reggie Bush never put up the eye-popping stats predicted when he was drafted. During his years with the Saints, Bush averaged only 34.16 yards per game rushing and 35.02 receiving. But these mediocre numbers do not tell the whole story.
Bush was one of the greatest decoys in NFL history while with New Orleans. Many formations would feature Bush lined up wide behind the line of scrimmage. There were multiple options opposing defenses had to plan for. Since Bush has good speed and good hands, running plays, screen passes and even the occasional deep pass could come from the same formation. No matter what one thought of his abilities, defenses had to account for Bush at all times.
This often created holes in coverage, especially against zone defenses.
Julio Jones Versus Tampa Bay
Jones Is a Consistent Threat
In 2011, Julio Jones accomplished what many thought was impossible. Jones gained positive yardage on a Mike Mularkey-designed reverse. This was the first insight into how versatile Jones could be at the NFL level.
Now into his second season, Jones has proven he is a threat anywhere on the field. His size and agility gives him an edge on smaller defensive backs. Not just a deep threat, Jones uses his strength to turn short passes into first downs. Much like Bush, defenses have to account for him on every play.
The Atlanta Falcons have no shortage of weapons in the passing game. Wide receiver Roddy White already has 62 receptions for 946 yards in 2012. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is playing like a much younger man with 64 receptions and 650 yards. Given Matt Ryan's ability to spread the ball, Jones should not be a necessity.
Jones is a necessity. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be fighting for their season come Sunday. A win means they trail the Falcons by only two games with five left to play. A loss means they trail by four with five to play, and that hill may be to steep to climb.
The Atlanta Falcons will need every weapon at their disposal to come out on top in Tampa. Jones' toughness is unquestionable, which means Tampa Bay will have to game-plan for him despite being injured. This should take double coverage off of White or Gonzalez during the game and help keep Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin off the field.
Like Bush for the Saints, Jones will not need gaudy stats to lead the Falcons to a win. His presence will help spread the defense to open holes for his teammates. The Buccaneers will have to make sure they do no let a lack of touches lull them to sleep on Jones. If they ignore him, Jones will happily limp into the end zone.