Julio Jones is almost irreplaceable.
But the Atlanta Falcons need to find a way to create a new offensive identity without his services for the rest of the season. There's many ways to go about this, but the best thing they can do is try to utilize all of their weapons.
For that, there's a couple of options they need to try.
They could switch up their blocking scheme for the running game to attempt to jump-start it. They could focus on using Harry Douglas in Jones' role or having multiple players step up at backup receiver. A final option would be to use their tight ends much like the Patriots did.
Switch to a Zone-Blocking Scheme and Run the Ball Effectively
The biggest hole in the Falcons offense for 2013 has been an utter lack of a running game. Most of that has to do with an ineffective offensive line. Part of that could be the talent that's on the line, and part of that is the scheme the line is running with.
One thing that the Falcons can do without having to drastically replace their personnel is change to a zone-style blocking scheme from their primarily man scheme. It could open up more holes for Steven Jackson, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers to get through.
All three of them are ideal for a cut-and-go scheme, and the zone blocking wouldn't hamper the screen and pass blocking the Falcons already employ. The basic concepts behind the zone running game include the stretch play—something the Falcons haven't run once all year.
It's a slow-developing play, but it was the bread and butter for the Falcons running game in 2004-2006. The Falcons offensive line would all block down in the same direction with backside cut blocks. Then the running back would read the hole and burst through it at full speed.
The offensive line is starting to gel, and since it relies more on teamwork than each individual lineman winning his battle, it could be an effective way for the Falcons to jump-start a struggling running game.
Have Harry Douglas Fill Julio Jones' Role
Julio Jones is one of the best all-around receivers in the NFL.
And while Harry Douglas isn't the same caliber player that Jones is, Douglas can play a poor man's version of the role. He can go deep, run screens and hit the quick slants and crosses effectively.
Deep routes aren't the bread and butter of Jones' game, but they were needed for overall effectiveness. Douglas isn't a mid-4.3 40-yard dash kind of guy like Julio is, but he's able to create deep separation with double moves and what I like to call the forgotten-man effect.
The defense focuses so much on other guys underneath, it forgets about the guy running past its deepest safeties.
|Harry Douglas Career Stats|
In addition to the deep routes to blow the top off of a defense, Douglas can be just as effective on screens.
This was a huge part of Jones' game and something that Douglas can do well. He does really well with the ball in his hands and can turn a screen into a long touchdown. Because of that, he can also be effective on slants and crossing routes.
Quick slants like the 75-yard touchdown against Carolina in late 2011 that Jones caught could be replicated by Douglas. This will be tough for the Falcons, but they wouldn't have to change the offense much from where it is now. This would make Matt Ryan more comfortable, and his chemistry with Douglas will only improve from where it already is.
Have the Younger Wide Receivers Step Up and Change Nothing
The Falcons have a ton of solid options with raw talent outside of Harry Douglas and Roddy White. Unfortunately, they need to have them all step up to be more than what they currently are. So this might be expecting more than what these guys are capable of.
Kevin Cone is a 6'2" receiver who has excellent speed and is a top-tier run blocker. However, his best role is on special teams in the long term. Brian Robiskie is a similar player in that he's tall with a ton of speed, but he's still not the kind of guy who'll step up as that primary option after Tony Gonzalez, White and Douglas.
So that leaves Drew Davis and Darius Johnson as the best choices for underrated receivers to perform well. They can run routes effectively and have the long speed to blast by the defense. But most of all, they can make insane catches to bail out Matt Ryan when he needs it. That's an underrated part of Julio Jones' game that will be needed to be duplicated until the end of the year.
Be Like the Patriots with Multiple Tight End Sets
Tony Gonzalez is obviously a future Hall of Fame player. However, the Falcons need to focus on ways to move on from him long-term while still offsetting the loss of Julio Jones this season. They can kill two birds with one stone here.
Levine Toilolo and Chase Coffman are both ideal tight ends on paper.
At 6'8", 265 pounds and 6'6", 250 pounds, the pair could be extremely effective in the red zone and on short-yardage situations. They are big enough to create push on the edge in the run game and have the backgrounds to put to use the lessons Gonzalez will teach them.
So why not have more sets that include Coffman or Toilolo on the field?
If Gonzalez is going to continue to see the high levels of double-teams, that means the secondary tight end won't. So he should be facing one-on-one matchups all day.
Taking a 6'8" and 6'6" pair of tight ends and putting them against 6'1" or 6'2" linebackers should keep them open all day. They can just use their bodies to box the linebackers out of the play and frustrate defenses with the dinking and dunking underneath.
It's not an exciting offense, but it's what the Patriots used with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and it proved to be effective.
In today's NFL, no one cares about flash.
So the Falcons need to make sure they can maximize their results by using all of these options and hoping for one to pan out.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.