Julio Jones and the Falcons delivered the Panthers their first defeat of the season. This game featured a premiere match-up between two of the NFL’s top players both in the NFC South. Jones currently leads the NFL in receptions and in receiving yards with 127 and 1,722, respectively. In this game, Jones caught 9 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Versus Josh Norman, specifically, Jones caught 7 passes for 91 yards on 8 targets.
- When the designated #1 wide receiver lined up in the slot, Norman elected to play the outside receiver instead.
- The Panthers play a wide mix of coverages using Norman underneath as a zone defender in a Cover 2 shell, while also as a deep defender in a Cover 3 or Cover 4 look.
- Norman’s position is defined pre-motion on the field. What this means is that if the #1 receiver shifts from the slot to the outside receiver position on the far side of the field, Norman does not follow him.
In this game, the Panthers rushed five defenders a large percentage of the time while dropping six into a Cover 3 shell using three deep defenders and three underneath defenders to get pressure on Matt Ryan. Before we will look at some film, let’s look at the results of all eleven targets versus the Panthers’ defense.
Julio Jones (#11) vs. Panthers: 11 targets, 9 receptions, 178 yards, 1 TD
|1||1||J.Norman||Hitch||Complete: 5 yards|
|2||2||J.Norman||Out||Complete: 19 yards|
|3||2||L.Kuechly||In||Complete: 17 yards + 15 yard Horse-Collar|
|5||2||J.Norman||Slant||Complete: 10 yards|
|6||3||J.Norman||Option: Corner-Hitch||Complete: 25 yards|
|8||3||J.Norman||Screen||Complete: -4 yards|
|9||3||J.Norman||Slant||Complete: 6 yards|
|10||3||K.Coleman||Post||Complete: 70 yard TD|
|11||4||J.Norman||In||Complete: 30 yard|
Let’s take a look at targets 2, 6, and 10 from above. Afterwards, we’ll take a look at a few plays where Jones wasn’t targeted but Norman was still in coverage to get the complete picture.
Situation: 1st and 10 at ATL 13
Description: (11:01 – 2nd) M.Ryan pass deep left to J.Jones to ATL 32 for 19 yards (J.Norman)
- The Falcons line up in I-formation with 21-personnel (two running backs, 1 tight end).
- Pre-snap, Norman lines up directly across Jones at the top of your screen and follows him as he is motioned across the formation.
- This indicates man-to-man coverage with the outside cornerbacks and a deep single-high safety.
- After the snap, Norman plays outside-technique, while Jones sprints up the numbers.
- Jones cuts to Norman’s outside forcing Norman to spin to keep with the receiver on his out-route.
- Ryan’s pass is low which makes Jones dive for the ball. He catches it and records 19 on the play.
- Key: Jones gets depth in his route and he waits to cut outside as Norman closes in on him. Norman seems to expect a dig- or post-route over the middle of the field. Very difficult to stay with a top tier receiver on an out-route when you are facing inside.
Situation: 3rd and 8 at ATL 22
Description: (13:31 – 3rd) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short left to J.Jones to ATL 47 for 25 yards (C.Tillman)
- The Panthers rush five defenders and drop six into coverage in a Cover 3 shell with three deep zones and three underneath.
- The Falcons respond by sending Jones deep on an option-route. He has the choice between the corner-route and the hitch between zones.
- How does Jones decide? If the Panthers are in a Cover 2 look with two deep safeties, then Jones runs a corner-route attacking the space between the outside zones. If the Panthers are in a Cover 3 shell, then Jones stops between zones hoping Ryan feeds him the ball in the correct location.
- Jones attacks the ball snagging it out of the air perfectly not allowing Norman back into the play.
- Norman attempts to pull him down, but Jones spins the tackle and makes his way up the field for an additional 10 yards after the catch.
- Key: Jones pushes Norman outside by taking two steps outisde on the corner route before cutting back inside. This creates enough separation for Ryan to fit the pass to him. Addtionally, Jones returning to the ball helps seal the reception.
Situation: 3rd and 13 at ATL 30
Description: (2:12 – 3rd) Julio Jones Pass From Matt Ryan for 70 Yrds S.Graham extra point is GOOD.
- The Falcons are in empty-set shotgun with trips on the right side of the formation.
- The Panthers respond by rushing four in a wide-9 alignment while dropping seven into a Cover 2 shell with five underneath zones.
- TE#83 Tamme runs a dig route from the left side of the formation pulling the deep left safety (#41 Harper) to attack his route.
- Jones runs a post-route up the right hash marks and then cuts diagonally across the field.
- He uses his speed to get in front of FS#20 Coleman while staying deep enough to get behind LB#59 Kuechly.
- Ryan launches the ball and gets deciminated near the line of scrimmage after the release.
- The ball is slightly underthrown, but due to Jones long arms and jumping ability he is able to pull it in right in front of Kuechly.
- The key to this play besides Jones’ elite length is TE#83 Tamme’s dig-route that pulls #41 Harper away from the play. Great play design meant to attack Cover 3 defenses deep and Cover 2 on the right side of the field with a smash-combination.
What about when Norman was covering Jones, but Ryan didn’t target him?
Overall, I was pretty impressed with Norman’s coverage skills in this game. The main issue the Panthers ran into that I alluded to earlier was that they had to use five or more defenders in order to generate a pass rush. In the first two plays I showed below, Norman is in man-to-man coverage on Jones and does a great job sticking to the star wide receiver. In the last play, Norman is playing zone coverage at the top of your screen in the Panthers’ Cover 4. He still sticks to the receiver expertly.
Norman also helped recover a high-snap fumble that Ryan couldn’t corral in time. Good recognition by Norman, but more of a right-place, right-time type of play for the cornerback.
Unlike against the Giants, Norman actually played pretty well not allowing any major passes downfield. Covering Julio Jones in a Kyle Shanahan offense is nearly impossible based on the vast number of route combinations the Falcons run combined with Jones’ ability to create separation at the top of his stems. This is exactly why he leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. Jones wasn’t perfect on the day. He dropped two passes over the middle of the field, but was clearly the main reason why the Falcons were able to move the ball against this top tier defense.
The Falcons were eliminated this week from playoff contention even with the victory while the Panthers look to secure the #1 seed in the NFC.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.