Patriots

Julio Jones says no one can cover him one-on-one; will Patriots?

Julio Jones says no one can cover him one-on-one; will Patriots?

HOUSTON - Julio Jones is a bad man, an absolute terror that has caused many defensive coordinators and cornerbacks to toss and turn in their king-size beds wondering, "How in the hell do we cover this guy?"

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Taylor Gabriel, a teammate of Jones, has an idea.
 
“You would think you have to triple, quadruple team him,” he said at the Falcons media availability Wednesday.
 
Now, I’ve never been all that good at math, but if you take three or four defenders and assign them to one player, that would leave seven or eight players to deal with 10 Falcons. That seems like a bad idea to me, but consider the alternative? For starters, what if you decided to go one-on-one with this weapon? 

I decided to go right to the source and ask Jones if anyone could do it -- if anyone could go man-to-man with him.
 
“One-on-one?” pondered Jones. “No, I do not.”
 
I figured that was going to be the response, so I followed by asking Jones if thought the Patriots would try that strategy Sunday in Super Bowl LI. 
 
“I don’t know,” he replied. “We’re just going to see what they try to take away.”
 
Stupidly, the Packers tried to play man-to-man on Jones less than two weeks ago in the NFC Championship and it cost Green Bay to the tune of 44 points, with Jones making nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
 
“I have seen it and it hasn’t worked out,” noted Gabriel.
 
Mohamed Sanu, also a pass-catching fiend for the Falcons, said matter-of-factly, “I wouldn’t advise it,” adding that teams have tried and “then you’ve seen him go for 300 yards and such.”
 
So, while Jones may not be sure what the Patriots will throw at him, or at least not be willing to share, Sanu says it has to be two defenders.
 
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” he said. “It’s Julio. He’s definitely a freak. If you tried to cover him one-on-one, I don’t know how that would fare.”
 
The Pats have had success slowing elite receivers. In the AFC Championship, the Steelers' Antonio Brown was frustrated by the constant presence of a corner in his face and a safety hovering over the top of him. The Texans' DeAndre Hopkins had a similar experience in the divisional round. Still, unlike both those teams, the Falcons have other options -- better options -- that have helped turn Atlanta into the top-scoring offense in the league, with 540 points in the regular season and another 80 in two playoff wins.
 
“What are you going to do?” asks Gabriel. “Double team Julio and take away Julio? That just opens it up for Sanu, Justin Hardy, Aldrick Robinson, me to beat man-on-man coverage...you have other guys that have had success all year taking advantage of man on man. It’s a hard decision.”
 
It’s why Gabriel has made a fair share of “splash” plays this year, scoring six TDs to match Julio’s total. It’s why Sanu was able to reel in 59 balls, and Hardy and Robinson added 21 and 20 respectively. And we haven’t gotten into the running backs contribution in the passing game (and we won’t; we’ll save that for later in the week). It’s eye-opening.
 
“It’s just putting people in position to make plays,” said Gabriel. “We had 13 different guys make TDs this year. That’s historic man.”
 
Which leads you back to what Jones told me.
 
“You can’t double everyone," he said. "If they’re going to double me, I have all the confidence in the world that my brothers are going to do their job.”
 
They’ve helped get the Falcons this far, but there’s still one more step to take, one you can bet the Pats' No. 1 scoring defense will contest from start to finish Sunday.

Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

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Injury report: Branch out, 10 Patriots questionable

The Patriots final injury report before their showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday includes 10 players listed as questionable and defensive lineman Alan Branch ruled out.

Branch, who hurt his knee in the Monday night loss to the Dolphins, missed three days of practice this week. Among the questionable are linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive lineman Trey Flowers, who didn't play against Miami. Tom Brady (Achilles), Brandon Cooks (hand) and Malcolm Butler (ankle) have been removed from the injury report. 

Cornerback Joe Haden (fibula) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring) among the Steelers listed as questionable. The full injury report:

Gronkowski putting suspension behind him

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Gronkowski putting suspension behind him

FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski was not focused on the past or a lengthy press conference Friday. 

Speaking with the media for the first time since being handed a one-game suspension for his hit on Tre’Davious White two weeks ago, Gronkowski spoke for less than two and a half minutes before declaring, “I’m out” and leaving the podium. 

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“I definitely learned about it, but I’m not really here right now [to talk about that],” Gronkowski said. “With the game Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m just putting my focus on them right now. Definitely learned from the mistake that I made, for sure a couple weeks ago, the last game I played in, but we’ve got a huge game this Sunday. We’ve got a huge game as a team this Sunday, so I’m just putting all my focus into the Steelers this week.” 

The veteran tight end said that he was glad to be back practicing and playing, but tried to shift the conversation back to the Steelers when asked about the suspension. He declined to share whether he reached out to White after the late hit. 

Gronkowski’s return will be a welcomed sight for a Patriots offense that struggled last week without him. Tom Brady played his worst game of the season, completing 24 of 43 passes for 233 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in New England’s loss to the Dolphins.