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A Closer Look: Deion Jones takes charge

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The rising star delivered in a must-win situation.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On a sloppy Thursday night, someone needed to emerge in a highly contested divisional battle. There is plenty of star power between the Falcons and Saints. Given his track record against New Orleans, Deion Jones seemed like a prime candidate to make a game-changing play. The second-year player picked off Drew Brees and took it ninety yards to the house last season. It crushed Brees’ dreams of a fourth quarter comeback. Jones followed up a great performance with six tackles and three passes defensed in the regular season finale.

It seemed inevitable that Jones was going to have another standout performance against New Orleans. He is starting to embrace a leadership role in a defense that could use more leaders. A true leader needs to make a difference in the biggest games. In a must-win situation, Jones made plays all over the field. He stuffed the stat sheet with 13 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two passes defensed, and one game-sealing interception. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I always rewatch the previous Falcons game and post GIFs on Twitter of the most impressive and disappointing plays. One specific player, positional group, or topic is excluded from the film review to be saved for this piece. Here are four of the most impressive plays from Jones’ memorable night.

First Quarter: 2nd and 10 at ATL 12

The Saints’ ten play, 54-yard opening drive featured plenty of Alvin Kamara. The sensational running back touched the ball on four of the first eight plays. It only took one snap for Kamara to get into the open field, as Desmond Trufant and De’Vondre Campbell were left confused on a 23-yard play. Pairing a multi-dimensional running back with Sean Payton is a nightmare for opposing defenses. From Darren Sproles to Pierre Thomas, the Falcons’ defense has endured plenty of heartache trying to contain their running backs. Kamara appears to be on another level compared to any previous Saints’ running back. Limiting him was going to be a daunting task for Dan Quinn’s defense.

Jones is usually responsible for handling all coverage responsibilities against opposing running backs. His blistering speed and outstanding instincts makes him a worthy choice for such a demanding role. Payton loves using deception to pull linebackers out of position and create space for his playmakers. It doesn’t work against Jones on the fake reverse, as he is reading Brees the entire way. The screen is set up for Kamara with Larry Warford and Max Unger leading the way. As both linemen pick up a defender, it leaves Jones space to instantly snuff out any possibility of a positive gain. Senio Kelemete doesn’t have a chance to prevent him from putting the Saints in a third-and-long situation. A nice stop turns into a game-changing play, as Kamara suffers a concussion on the crushing hit.

Third Quarter: 1st and 10 at NO 17

Following Matt Ryan’s third interception, pressure began to mount in Atlanta. The possibility of facing a two-possession scenario in the second half of a do-or-die game is troubling to say the least. Thanks to not allowing any points on the final four drives, the defense made sure it never happened. Jones was at the forefront of stopping New Orleans’ high powered offense. Payton is looking to get creative again on this play. After not receiving a single target in the first half, it was only a matter of time before Ted Ginn got involved.

It’s another play action fake involving misdirection. Ginn is motioned to the left, as they are looking to create space on the right. None of this movement fazed Jones. He sees Ginn peeking out as the primary target. With Vic Beasley racing in, Brees needs to get rid of the ball quickly. Beasley’s rush affects Ginn’s ability to accelerate into the flat. Derrick Shelby created some movement up front to slow down Ginn as well. The always dangerous wide receiver needs to slightly alter his route. That is going to be a problem when one of the fastest linebackers in the league is closing you down. Jones brings down Ginn for another impressive stop. It was one of his three tackles for a loss. While the pressure provides some assistance, Ginn is still more than fast enough to turn this play into a six yard again. Not against Jones though.

Fourth Quarter: 1st and 10 at ATL 11

Declining a holding penalty on third and one appeared to be the final back-breaking mistake in a mistake-filled game. It put the Falcons in a precarious situation with ninety seconds left. Someone needed to make up for Quinn’s calamitous decision making. Jones proved to be the hero in a two-play sequence. Payton is looking to get creative in the backfield once again. Since the clock was on New Orleans’ side, it’s understandable why the offensive mastermind wanted to remain patient. That allowed him to call a play designed for one of the most hated people in Atlanta. Willie Snead has been a complete afterthought this season. For him to score the game-winning touchdown would have been excruciating.

It wasn’t going to happen on Jones’ watch. Besides his ridiculous closing speed, the awareness to recognize what Snead is doing and keep this play from gaining any yards makes it even more impressive. The Rams used Robert Woods on a similar concept against the Texans. They used inside-outside motion to bewilder Houston’s defense, before following up with a fake end around. Woods reverts back to the outside and finds space in the open field. It’s a brilliant play call, if executed properly. Jones wasn’t going to be tricked. This stop ends up being the first of two game-saving plays. Brian Poole is left covering Michael Thomas, while Robert Alford gets fooled by the design. The left side looks to be open for Snead to make his mark. Jones keeps the game alive and gives fans some solid ammunition.

Fourth Quarter: 2nd and 10 at ATL 11

The Saints line up in a shotgun trips right formation on the next play. It’s a more aggressive approach, as they look to get into the end zone. By running a four verts concept, the three wide receivers and tight end are expected to run straight downfield. If Brees doesn’t feel comfortable, he can find Mark Ingram on the check down. The Falcons countered well in this red zone chess match. Instead of relying on their traditional Cover 3 defense, they switched to a Cover 4 look. It allows them to protect the end zone at all costs.

Brees isn’t bothered by the coverage switch. He is used to hitting Coby Fleener in tight window areas. While Josh Hill is a slight downgrade, the future Hall of Famer will always trust his arm against any defense. That proved to be his downfall. The pass is too low and inside for Hill to make a play on the ball. As much as Brees believes in his ability, he will regret not checking it down to Ingram.

For all the discussion about the decision, Jones’ terrific coverage deserves acknowledgement. He doesn’t put himself at risk by tugging Hill’s jersey or playing too physical. That can occur in the red zone, especially when the stakes couldn’t be higher. Jones does an excellent job keeping his eyes on Brees. Most linebackers will turn their back to the quarterback and try to run with the tight end in that position. Jones refuses to give Brees any chance to beat him over the top. He faces up Hill and shows off his tremendous athleticism to end the best game of his career in highlight-reel fashion.