FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan emphasized Friday the benefits of having quarterback Matt Ryan spread the ball around despite the team having a dominant wide receiver in Julio Jones.
In the 35-28 Week 2 victory over Oakland, Ryan completed passes to nine different receivers, and starting running back Devonta Freeman -- second on the team in receptions last season -- wasn’t one of them.
"It’s been nice," Shanahan said. "Teams are going to have to do something to Julio, with how good Julio is. And everyone knows that. You really hope Ju is one on one, and you feel pretty good about those matchups. But it’s nice when he’s not and he’s got some bad looks, there’s a lot of other opportunities out there at the tight-end position, the receiver position and the running-back position.
"You’ve got other guys who have made plays. It makes it easier. You don’t have to force it into tough looks. You can go where the coverage tells you. And when you do that, it kind of balances the field out and makes Ju’s catches a little more valuable. You might not have the same numbers for Ju and stuff, but I think the result ends up improving the offense."
Jones, who is recovering from a calf injury, leads the Falcons with 172 receiving yards and two touchdowns catches. However, he is second on the team in catches with nine to tight end Jacob Tamme's 11. Jones had been targeted 13 times, three fewer than Tamme and the same number of times as fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu (eight catches, 99 yards, TD). Six Falcons have four or more catches through the first two games.
Through the first two games last season, Jones had 22 receptions for 276 yards and two touchdowns on 27 targets. The Falcons won both of those games -- against the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants -- but that doesn’t mean force-feeding Jones automatically equals victory. Having other receivers make plays and beat one-on-one coverage is likely to give Jones more chances at one-on-one opportunities.
We’ll see if the Falcons spread the ball around Monday night in New Orleans, with the Saints giving up their share of passing yards (336 yards per game) and having a banged-up secondary. The Saints mix in some man coverages with their deep zones and are likely to try to double Jones.
Running the ball with Freeman and Tevin Coleman would be wise, of course, to help set up explosive play-action plays. And the Giants and Eli Manning, who ran a lot of no-huddle, had success moving the ball down the middle of the field against the Saints in Week 2, although New Orleans certainly tightened up in the red zone by not allowing any touchdowns.