FOXBORO -- Film study is an extremely beneficial thing. It tells you what your opponent does, what their tendencies may be and lays the groundwork for determining a plan to stop them.
The Patriots’ defense is tasked with trying to slow a Falcons offense that put up the most points in the league this season. If you think they faced their toughest vertical threat of the season last week in Antonio Brown, corner Eric Rowe disagrees with you. That distinction goes to Julio Jones, whom Rowe said Saturday was peerless.
“They’ve got Julio, the best receiver in the league, but not just him,” Rowe said. “They’ve got [Taylor] Gabriel, a speedy guy we have to slow down. They’ve got [Mohamed] Sanu, big dude in the slot. They’ve got two running backs that are just a great tandem, then obviously the quarterback, Matt Ryan. I can’t really speak for their defense because obviously I don’t watch their defense, but their offense is clicking. Obviously we’ve seen they’re in good rhythm, so we’ve just got to slow them down.”
So on the subject of film study, is there anything new that can really be learned about a guy like Jones? He’s the total package of speed, size and hands, so…
“No,” Rowe replied. “Nothing that surprises me. Dude’s fast, big, strong, great hands, great route-running skills. I mean, I’ve seen him shake some DBs out of their shoes. It’s not a surprise.”
Over two games this postseason, Jones has 15 catches for 247 yards with three TDs, one of which was a 73-yarder in the NFC Championship against Green Bay. Though he missed Weeks 14 and 15 with a toe injury, he still finished 39 yards off the league lead for receiving yards with 1,409. In each of the previous two seasons, he finished with more yards than that.
"We were just watching film on a double-move he ran against Green Bay and he didn’t come down with it, but just out of the double-move in two more steps he was 10 more yards down the field it feels like," Devin McCourty said this week. "Usually big guys like that don’t accelerate that fast. It usually takes times for them to get going, but he’s very explosive, tough to tackle. I think a lot of times you hear Julio Jones and you think of the deep routes, the posts, the nines, but you don’t think about the five-yard routes he catches on unders and breaks two tackles and scores a 60 or 70-yard touchdown."
In the AFC Championship, the Patriots held Brown to 77 yards on seven receptions with no touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown had only two catches on four passes when covered by Malcolm Butler. If the Patriots can limit Jones in such a fashion, they’ll still have to make sure Sanu, who has scored a touchdown in both playoff games for the Falcons, and Atlanta’s rushing attack can be kept in check as well.
Should those things play out, the favorable matchup of New England’s offense against Atlanta’s defense should be able to take care of the rest. Stopping the best offense in the league is easier said than done, however, and the Patriots know there’s no greater threat than Jones.