The Falcons were able to avenge their 38-0 destruction two weeks ago by ending the Panthers' undefeated streak at fourteen games. The entire team stepped up as they played their most inspired football since earlier in the season. Matt Ryan played extremely well, Vic Beasley and Ra'Shede Hageman put together their best games of the season, and Robert Alford redeemed himself from an embarrassing showing against Carolina two weeks ago.
However, the clear star of the game was Julio Jones, who racked up 178 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. He was dominant throughout the entirety of the game, making up for an ineffective game the first time they played Carolina.
The highlight of Jones' day was his 70-yard touchdown reception after Matt Ryan displayed some impressive improvisational skills.
What's getting lost in Julio's epic touchdown reception, understandably so, was a nice play call by Kyle Shanahan. The Panthers were running Cover 2 on the play.
Luke Kuechly had to defend the the middle of the field with the safeties splitting the deep portion in half. He was responsible for playing potential seam routes, which Julio Jones ran on this play. With Roman Harper and Kurt Coleman initially splitting the deep field in half, Kuechly was left in a one-on-one situation with Jones for a few seconds; just long enough for Jones to get a step on him.
Lining Julio up in the slot, away from Josh Norman and allowing him to work the seam against a middle linebacker was a great move by Kyle Shanahan.
While Julio Jones was sprinting downfield, Matt Ryan made a nice play in his own right. Ryan Schraeder gave up a pressure from the right side of the line and Ryan stepped up in the pocket and maneuvered left out of the pocket.
The highlight of the play was Julio Jones' ability to leap over Luke Kuechly and dominate the catch point, allowing him to snatch the ball out of the air.
When it all the working pieces came together, it created the most exciting play of the season.
This was definitely the highlight of Jones' day, but he made an impact all day long and had a dominant afternoon. He was faced up against Josh Norman (again) for a fair amount of his snaps. Like the last matchup, Kyle Shanahan called routes that utilized Jones' athleticism and allowed him to get open against Norman.
In the first meeting between the Panthers and the Falcons, Jones was able to win on slants, curls, and comeback routes. On a long completion in the third quarter, Atlanta called a mirrored concept; an out-breaking curl route with a flat route underneath.
The Panthers were running a 3-deep zone blitz with five rushers. This is a bit different than normal Cover 3 because one of the defenders playing underneath, in this case Thomas Davis, is blitzing the quarterback. It leaves the Panthers with one less defender to play the pass.
Carolina was able to bracket Jones until Justin Hardy peeled out in the flat. This forced Cortland Finnegan to abandon his post bailing deep and revert back to his initial role as the flat defender.
From here, Julio's athleticism and nuanced route running allow him to gain the upper hand on Josh Norman.
Here's how the play looked from the All-22 angle:
Jones had another explosive play in the fourth quarter. The Falcons were backed up near their own goalline on first down in need of an explosive play. Carolina called 3 deep zone blitz throughout the game and Kyle Shanahan made another brilliant call to leave Julio Jones in one on one coverage against Josh Norman while Norman was trapped playing outside leverage.
The red arrows signify the routes of the Falcons players. The yellow line and oval attached to Josh Norman is where he was supposed to go on his Cover 3 assignment. The purple indicates the blown assignment by Kurt Coleman and the route Josh Norman had to take to try and atone for Coleman's overaggressive backpedal down the field.
An underrated aspect of the play design were the two routes by Roddy White and Patrick DiMarco. Roddy White ran a crossing route that demanded the attention from the underneath defenders on the second level. DiMarco ran a route to the flat that forced Charles Tillman to stay near the sideline. The combination between DiMarco and White opened up the middle of the defense.
Coleman's overreaction to Julio Jones' initial burst upfield left Norman in a tricky situation. His responsibility was to play the outside third towards the top of the screen, but Coleman's abandonment of his zone in the deep middle put a strain on Norman and forced him to convert his zone coverage to man coverage on a far superior athlete.
It was nice to see Julio Jones get the monkey off his back and have a productive day against the Panthers, a team he's struggled with in recent history. 2015 has definitely been a rough season for the Falcons, but performances like this should definitely give hope for success in the near future.
Factor in that performances from young players like Vic Beasley, Ra'Shede Hageman, Jake Matthews, and Devonta Freeman were extremely encouraging. As they continue to develop with stars like Julio Jones, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford stabilizing the core of the team, Atlanta should be in store for a quick turnaround.