As the Eagles’ cornerbacks prepared this week to face one of the best receivers in the league, they couldn’t help but be impressed.
Heck, they even enjoyed watching Julio Jones.
Now they need to try to slow him down.
“It’s cool to kind of see on film, to see how he gets to top speed and just stop on a dime like that,” Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “Him and Matt Ryan are just on the same page and everything is on a rope and it’s right there. That’s one of the things that’s special about him because a lot of receivers don’t know how to run routes and that’s the unique thing about him.”
What makes Jones so unique, according to Carroll, is that at 6-foot-3, 220, Jones is a very big receiver but gets in and out of his breaks very quickly and runs crisp routes.
The Eagles saw Jones not too long ago, when the Eagles opened the 2015 season with the Falcons on the schedule. In that game, with Byron Maxwell on him for most of it, Jones had nine catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
“Can’t really key off of that game because it was a different defense we ran last year,” Carroll said. “You can’t really go off that.”
Instead, the Eagles have watched tape from the Falcons’ game against the Seahawks Broncos and Chargers – teams that play similarly in the secondary. They’ve watched a little of the Tampa Bay game and even some of the Carolina game, when Jones finished with 300 yards receiving.
Jones had more receiving yards in that game than all but one of the Eagles’ receivers (Jordan Matthews) has all season.
In fact, the Eagles’ receivers – Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs and recently released Josh Huff – have 1,099 yards this season. That’s just 129 yards more than Jones (970). Eagles receivers have one more touchdown (6-5).
“He makes it easy on a quarterback,” Falcons quarterback Ryan said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. “He’s got an unbelievable catch radius and ability to track balls as well as anybody in the league. I try to do my best to put it in a space where he can catch and run afterwards, and he’s really as good as anybody with running after the catch, he’s so big and explosive. He’s so tough to bring down. He’s a great combination of speed and power.”
While talking about Jones on Thursday, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also talked about the receiver’s impressive catch radius.
Then, Schwartz compared Jones to another great receiver, one who will surely be headed to Canton one day.
“I mean, Larry Fitzgerald has a lot of that,” Schwartz said. “I think Julio Jones might even be more explosive and more dynamic than Larry Fitzgerald, who is a Hall of Fame receiver.”
While Jones is clearly as dynamic as any receiver in the league, what’s made the Falcons so good this year is that they haven’t just relied on him in every game.
There have been three games in which Jones has been held under 30 yards this season – the Falcons are 3-0 in those games.
“The Falcons are playing well, offensively, because they're not a one-trick pony,” Schwartz said. “You talk about Matt Ryan, we talk about Julio Jones, but they run the ball very well. Their stats aren't great running the ball, but they're significant. They’ve got a running back that can break anywhere. It's not just Julio Jones.”
Still, the Eagles have to worry about No. 11 on Sunday, and they’ll have to do it with Carroll and Leodis McKelvin (questionable with a hamstring injury) and a rookie seventh-rounder in Jalen Mills.
Last week, they had to worry about No. 13, the week before No. 88, earlier in the season No. 84. The Eagles have had to face some of the best receivers in the league this season; Jones is just the latest in a long list.
“We know he’s up there,” Carroll said. “He’s one of the top receivers in the league. You can’t read too much into it. It’s just our next opponent. Really just trying to slow him down as much as we can.”