One of the universal calls when the team’s offense flounders is for the team to give Julio Jones more targets. It’s that way both because Julio is a magical being from another dimension who can singlehandedly rip apart offenses, and because with the exception of the 2015 season where Kyle Shanahan basically fed Julio exclusively, it never feels like Julio is getting the ball enough.
Is that the reality, though, or is this offense just not doing a good enough job of feeding Julio the right kind of targets?
#Falcons have really moved away from feeding Julio Jones. Targets (-2.8), receptions (-2.2), yards (-35) below three-year per game averages.— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) October 16, 2017
First of all, we need to remember that these three year averages are hugely skewed by 2015 and even 2014, when Julio got career high targets, receptions, and yards because the team was hellbent on feeding him. As we’ve discussed many times in the past, the offense is best when it doesn’t force it to Julio at all costs, and instead intelligently spreads the ball around and gives Julio the best possible looks. Julio’s target total was down significantly in 2016, but he also had a great year in one of the NFL’s best offenses ever, and that was very much by design.
Where was Julio a year ago after five games versus now? Let’s take a closer look:
2016: 24 receptions, 517 yards, 3 touchdowns, 18.6 yards per reception
2017: 25 receptions, 367 yards, 0 touchdowns, 14.7 yards per reception
On paper, this seems like a pretty obvious case of Kyle Shanahan making better use of Julio, but you do need to remember that Julio had a monster outlier game when he reeled in 12 receptions for 300 yards against the Panthers in Week 4. He had just one other 100 yard effort in those first five games, and he had a 66 yard, 29 yard (!) and 16 yard (!!) effort in the mix, too. Those first five weeks were all over the place for Atlanta and Julio.
Under Sarkisian, he has seen more consistent targets. With the exception of the game against Buffalo, where he got hurt and ended the game with just three receptions for 30 yards, he’s clocked in at at least five targets and 66 yards in every single game. His yards per reception are actually higher than they were in 2015 and not that far behind 2014 thus far,
That said, I’d argue that the offense could stand to take more deep shots to Julio, and they certainly haven’t followed through on their promise to get him more involved in the red zone thus far in 2017. When you have one of the league’s best receivers and you can’t figure out a way to get him the ball when you’re trying to score, that might be a bit of a problem, particularly when the rest of your passing game isn’t looking so hot. Against a Miami secondary that doesn’t rank among the NFL’s best, and during a game when every other receiver was relatively quiet, you can still make a strong case for more Julio, and until Sark and company figure out how to utilize some of their other options more effectively, it might be time to lean on the most elite guy on the field a bit more.
And frankly, the larger problem is that the passing game isn’t firing at all right now, with the team mysteriously choosing not to use Tevin Coleman at all against Miami, continuing to struggle to find ways to get Taylor Gabriel in space, and yes, perhaps not feeding Julio quite the way they should. Unfortunately for Sarkisian and all of us, though, it’s not going to be as simple as just pumping more targets #11’s way. In the short term, though, I’m hoping we’ll see just that, especially against a New England secondary that had no answer for him fairly recently.