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Stopping Julio Jones doesn't stop Atlanta Falcons' passing game


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Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Green Bay Packers 33-32 in Week 8 of the regular season, there was no secret about how the Packers handled covering star receiver Julio Jones.

As Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan put it, "I don’t ever recall going through a game where I really think every snap that we took, he was double-teamed."

Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter would chase Jones around with safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix shading over the top, or Gunter would do the same with safety Morgan Burnett lurking from behind. On Ryan’s game-winning 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu, Jones drew both Gunter and Clinton-Dix, allowing Sanu to dominate his one-on-one matchup with linebacker Jake Ryan.

What does Jones expect from the Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday? "They’re going to try to match guys with us," he said. "They had some success the first game we played them. But we’re definitely a different team. And of course they are, too. We’re just going to go out and do what we do: go out there and beat man-to-man coverage."

The Packers might try to match up and play man technique underneath, but you can bet they’ll keep that safety over the top of Jones, especially given the injuries in their secondary. Jones has been dealing with a toe injury but says he'll be ready to go.

Jones knows there are other capable options around him, no matter how the Packers try to defend him. Ryan has spread the ball around all season, with touchdown passes to 13 targets -- a first in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He completed passes to eight or more receivers in 12 of 16 regular-season games. In last week’s 36-20 divisional-playoff win over the Seahawks, 10 players were targeted and eight made catches.

Jones has watched a number of his fellow receivers emerge. The one who comes to mind first for most people is speedy Taylor Gabriel, who tied Jones for the team lead with six touchdown receptions. In fact, Gabriel exploded onto the national scene with a 47-yard touchdown against Green Bay, his first TD of the season.

"Not only with Taylor, but Aldrick Robinson is another speed guy for us," Jones said. "You can’t really cheat the safety to me too much. A lot of teams try to play two-man. When they try to take me or Gabriel away or Aldrick away, you’ve got Sanu down the middle. We just complement each other. It’s been a big part this year, with those guys coming in to help out with those verticals."

The Packers are banged up in the secondary. Burnett is dealing with a quadriceps injury and cornerback Quentin Rollins still isn't fully cleared after a concussion/neck injury. Whoever is on the field, the Falcons should have the advantage, especially since Jones has such a great supporting cast now.

Good video at the link also:


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