Julio Jones usually sticks with the same line as the rest of the company, which tends to be a bland, non-revealing sort of answer. He didn't stray that far from that brand this time out, but he managed his confusion across. I originally wrote frustration, but it was pointed out to me that that's a bit of a slanted read of his comments, so we'll go withrough something milder.
"I just go out there and just do what I'm told to do," Jones said. "If we're getting those looks, I think they'll call those plays. But I don't know. I don't know what we're getting down there. I don't know what the thinking is as far as if we're going to throw the jump balls or if we're going to run the ball or whatever look we're getting down there. We practice throughout the week throwing jump balls, throwing fades, throwing all these little things. But when the game comes, you never know what's going to come up."
"I don’t know what they are doing," said Jones, when ask why he’s not getting any fade routes of jump balls to help out in the red zone.
What makes this stretch of lousy offensive play so maddening is that no one appears to know exactly what is wrong. If I put out a poll on Twitter right now, I'm guessing I'd get 45% Shanahan's fault, 45% Ryan's fault, and the remaining 10% split between blaming Arthur Blank, Dan Quinn, the offensive line, and receiver play. The problem with all those explanations is that they don't provide a singular explanation for the team's struggles. Matt Ryan continues to blow opportunities with bad throws, but the pass protection is also a factor. It's trite, but if there was any easy answer, this thing would have been solved by now.
Arthur Blank is not immune to deterioration of the product on the field or the outside criticism, so the question really is how much trust he has in this new coaching staff. I believe Thomas Dimitroff and perhaps Scott Pioli will be gone this coming offseason, which might buy the team some goodwill from the fanbase, but if they decide the offense simply can't work as it's arranged right now, there's always the remote possibility that Matt Ryan or Kyle Shanahan might be on the way out. A team that had a quality offense for such a long time can't simply regress into a unit that doesn't score more than 21 points against mediocre defenses without the blame falling on somebody.
My personal hunch? The Falcons are trying to avoid forcing it to Julio Jones in the red zone because they know it's the obvious call, they're not confident enough in the run any longer to truly lean on it, and the Falcons' passing game in general is suffering from a toxic brew of Matt Ryan's bad decision-making, mediocre receiver play outside of Julio (and including him, considering he had a couple of costly drops this time out), and increasingly poor pass protection. Some of that can be fixed in the here and now, but it's fairly obvious it's going to take more major alterations to return the Falcons to true offensive relevance and wins.
Expect Atlanta to overhaul its offensive line, particularly left guard and center, and to put a premium on fixing whatever's ailing Matt Ryan. Ryan and Shanahan are likely safe for 2016, but another year like this will probably send both packing.