Atlanta Falcons: Why the Falcons Have the NFL's Best Receiving Trio
Add tight end Tony Gonzalez to the mix and you have arguably the league's best starting receiving group.
The statistics make a strong case: Through 16 weeks, White has caught 87 passes for 1,309 yards and seven touchdowns, Jones 76 for 1,142 and 10 touchdowns and Gonzalez 88 for 889 and eight touchdowns.
Combined, that's 251 catches for 3,340 yards and 25 touchdowns.
But it's not just the statistics that are impressive—it's the way they're obtained.
In last Saturday's win over the Detroit Lions, the Falcons showed why that is.
Pick Your Poison
All season, opposing defenses have had to choose which receiver to focus on as it is virtually impossible to equally cover White, Jones and Gonzalez. Last week, the Lions chose Gonzalez.
It worked: the Lions held the future Hall of Famer to just one catch and nine yards on the day.
But it left White and Jones in many man-to-man situations throughout the game, which they easily took advantage of, like on this 3rd-and-7 play early in the second quarter.
White (at the bottom of the screenshot below) is going to run a simple slant pattern, but it's Gonzalez's presence which makes it happen. As circled in red below, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril is supposed to drop back in zone coverage like the rest of his teammates are about to.
Yet Avril is so focused on him that he doesn't square his shoulders to see where Ryan's looking, allowing the signal-caller a big window to throw to White.
By the time Avril turns around, the pass is already completed.
That leaves cornerback Chris Houston visibly upset with Avril's coverage and White happy to convert the first down.
Deep or Short, You Will Be Burned
Sure, having the acceleration to take a short pass down the field for a score along with the top-end speed to burn a player deep is what you'd expect from a younger player like the 23-year-old Jones.
For an eight-year veteran like White, it comes as more of a surprise.
Yet White showed the above description still fits him perfectly and the following two plays prove it.
In the first, he showcased his top-end speed.
Facing a 3rd-and-1 with under six minutes left in the first quarter, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter calls a play-action pass. Ryan fakes the hand-off to Michael Turner (off-screen to the right in the next screenshot), sets his feet and throws it downfield to White, who found himself in single-coverage after the safety focused on Gonzalez (see: pick your poison). White tries to create separation with a stutter step midway through his route.
The move barely gives White a step on his man, but that's all he needs to complete the catch and run into the end zone for the game's opening score.
Then, White put his acceleration on display.
On 2nd-and-5 early in the second quarter, Koetter calls for a fake pitch right to Jacquizz Rodgers and screen pass left to White.
While left tackle Sam Baker deserves great credit for his cut block on the safety on the play, it's White who outruns the entire Lions defense for the score, including the three defenders circled in red who had a realistic shot at tackling him.
The 'No Way He Just Made that Catch' Catch
Sometimes, even when Koetter's call doesn't go as planned, White, Jones and Gonzalez have enough athletic ability to make up for it.
Like on this play.
Facing a 2nd-and-9 from the Lions' 16-yard line late in the second half, the Falcons come out in a four-wide, one-tight end and one-back set. Of those players, only two were to go into the end zone: White and Jones.
White was to occupy free safety Louis Delmas (last man back in the top screenshot) while Ryan attempted look off strong safety Don Carey (top defender in the next screenshot), but it didn't work as Carey stayed on Jones's side and covered him along with Houston.
But Ryan threw it to Jones anyway. And despite being double-covered and running out of room, Jones still made the toe-dragging catch.
Jones fell to the ground in the process, but kept possession of the ball to score Atlanta's third touchdown of the game.
Put it all together and you have yourself the most dangerous receiving trio in the NFL.
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