Next Gen Stats: Variety helps Julio Jones, Falcons carve up Panthers

By Nick Shook
Read full post on

We’ve all taken a look at the box score from Atlanta’s surprising win over Carolina. Was it a changing of the guard? It’s too soon to tell. But it was a day to remember for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Ryan exceeded 500 yards passing and connected on four passing touchdowns in a high-scoring affair. Three-hundred of Ryan’s 503 yards belonged to Jones. Numbers like that command attention and explanation, and it grabbed ours.

The Falcons opened their first offensive possession with three straight passes to Jones for 51 total yards. The targets got Jones in a rhythm, whether intended or otherwise, but it was also a predictor of more things to come.

Each reception came out of a different formation: an offset I-formation, a strong I with twin receivers to the left, and a traditional I with receivers tight to the line on each side. The third was actually a check by Ryan from a pistol set to bring in the tight end to block linebacker Thomas Davis, showing blitz at the line in the Sam position. The adjustment paid off, with Levine Toilolo buying Ryan enough time to step up in and escape the pocket to find Jones, who had fallen over on a crossing route, in a soft spot behind Luke Kuechly in an intermediate zone.

Atlanta chose its personnel groupings in an almost even distribution, going with a one-back, one-tight end, three-receiver set 33.8 percent of the time, according to Next Gen Stats. The Falcons rolled with the two-running back, one-tight end, two-receiver set in 27.7 percent of plays, and swapped a running back for another tight end on 21.5 percent of plays. With that type of balance, it made it tough for Carolina to counter — and it showed.

Julio Jones against defensive coverages
Single-high man
Cover 3
Cover 4
Cover 2 Man

Carolina attempted to answer with a variety of coverages, with only one relatively limiting Jones.

Thanks to Atlanta’s relatively high use of two-back, one-tight end sets, Carolina was forced to run its base 4-3 defense 66.1 percent of the time (42 plays), its highest rate of the season. It was a stark contrast from Week 1, when Carolina went with the base 4-3 on just 29.8 percent (17 plays) of defensive downs against Denver (going Nickel on 64.9 percent of snaps). It’s reflective of an upward trend, as illustrated in this Next Gen Stats graph.

But the defensive personnel grouping didn’t matter much in covering Jones. The wideout had seven receptions against the 4-3 for 183 yards and one touchdown, and had five catches for 117 yards against the 4-2-5 Nickel.

Atlanta seemed to be a step ahead of Carolina offensively for much of the game. It showed when, even in the correct defense, the Falcons found success. Midway through the second, Atlanta dropped into Cover 3 on third-and-16, a logical coverage considering the situation, and still couldn’t stop Jones. The wideout streaked down the field and simply outran Bene Benwikere, playing one of the deep thirds, catching a pass for a 53-yard gain.

Carolina also showed a penchant for going with a single-high safety man coverage quite often, and it hurt them most when Jones was the target.

After beating James Bradberry twice within three plays in the first quarter before Bradberry exited due to injury, Jones made a victim of Benwikere, with none more glaring than the score above. Benwikere was left on an island, and getting beat off the line didn’t help. Neither does this much space to run, where Jones hit his max speed of the day of 21.09 mph.

Jones’ final stat line: 12 catches for 300 yards, one touchdown, and 1,242.2 total yards covered (418.16 yards on receptions). He caught five passes out of the I-formation (for 131 yards and one score), five out of the shotgun (for 117 yards), and two out of the singleback formation (for 52 yards). Eleven of his 12 catches came when he lined up wide, and of the 12 grabs, he lined up on the left for half of them, and on the right for the other half. Try stopping that variety.

Other points of note in Next Gen Stats from Week 4:

1. In the weekly race to the quarterback, this week’s winner is Seattle’s Cliff Avril, who sacked the Jets‘ Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2.1 seconds.

2. Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott had a career day, carrying the ball 23 times for 138 yards and one touchdown in a 24-17 win over San Francisco. On rushing attempts, Elliott covered 387.25 yards and hit a max speed of 17.61 mph on a zone stretch play that left Elliott a yard shy of paydirt.

3. For the third straight week, Arizona blitzed more than any other team in the NFL (53.1 percent) and failed to record a single sack while blitzing.

4. Three of the five most effective defensive personnel groupings in the league in Week 4 were the 3-4-4 look, with Baltimore holding Oakland to 1.7 yards per play on the 19 downs they utilized the grouping. Pittsburgh (2.6 yards per play) and Arizona (2.9 yards per play) were the other two.

5. Will Fuller was the fastest ballcarrier in Week 4, burning the Tennessee punt coverage team for 67 yards and hitting a max speed of 21.62 mph in the process. Detroit’s Andre Roberts was just .04 mph behind, hitting 21.58 mph on his 85-yard punt return for a touchdown.

6. Let’s not overlook A.J. Green‘s Thursday night performance. Miami’s Tony Lippett allowed a perfect passer rating when targeted while covering Green (five targets, four completions, 72 yards, one touchdown). And check out this route chart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s