If you’re looking for a key to this Sunday’s Giants-Falcons Wild Card match, let me suggest the man who will be the best receiver on the field — with all apologies to Victor Cruz, a terrific player who might just be the Giants’ MVP this year. But Atlanta’s Julio Jones, named the NFL’s rookie of the month earlier today, is, as they say down South, a real Hoss — and you can bet the Falcons will be intent on riding him as often as they can.
Jones is just 22, but he has the size (6′-3″, 220 pounds) of a running back and the speed and moves of the most dangerous wide receivers. Most teams choose to double cover him, but you can’t use a linebacker as the short man or Jones will simply out-juke him. And one-on-one with a defensive back or safety – whom he generally outweighs by 15-20 pounds – is asking for major trouble.
The Giants have a major problem defending the pass: They were 29th out of 32 teams in yards given up through the air, and 25th overall in points given up. So it’s likely that the Falcons will primarily attack them through the air. Keep an eye on Jones very early in the game, and you will probably see how the rest of the afternoon is going to go. Overall, Julio’s numbers don’t look all that impressive — 54 catches for 959 yards for a 17.8 average with 8 touchdowns. But he missed three games early with injuries, and it took Atlanta awhile to work him into their game plan. Now, he is their primary offensive weapon. In the final 4 games of the season, Jones caught 24 passes for 461 yards — that’s an average of 19 per grab — and 6 TDs.
Earlier in the season, NBC football analyst Cris Collinsworth called Julio “a Jerry Rice with more muscle.” Jones, Collinsworth thought, might be the most difficult receiver in the league to contain, because “He’s so strong and explodes off the line so quickly that it’s dangerous to play bump-and-run with him. Plus you can throw him short, high percentage passes and he can still get you the same 17-20 yards that most other receivers would have to catch the ball downfield to get.”
Jones is just a rookie but is already compiling a highlight film of circus catches. Watch this one from Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay last week (and this one as well), and one against the Colts earlier in the season:
And then watch the highlight film from his three years at Alabama. You’ll know why they’re calling him “Fire and Smoke.”