Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the team missed on opportunities with All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones in the season opener, but Quinn certainly anticipates a strong performance from Jones in Sunday's night NFC showdown against the Green Bay Packers at the new Mercedez-Benz Stadium.
Jones finished with four catches for 66 yards on five targets in a 23-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. He had three catches for 62 yards on three targets in the first half, then had one catch for four yards in the fourth quarter. Jones, who reached a milestone in the game with his 500th reception, was not targeted in the third quarter.
"Usually when there's a quiet game for him, there's not too much quiet that follows that," Quinn said of Jones.
To Quinn's point, Jones also had four catches for 66 yards -- and a touchdown -- in last year's season-opening loss to Tampa Bay then responded with a five-catch, 106-yard, one-touchdown performance in a win against Oakland. After being held to one catch for 16 yards in a Week 3 win against New Orleans last season, Jones responded with a career-high 300 yards on 12 catches, including a 75-yard touchdown, in a Week 4 win against Carolina.
There with four other times in 2016 when Jones had four catches or fewer and also 60 yards or fewer. Three of those times, he responded with 100-yard games. A toe injury hobbled him in two of those contests.
After reviewing the film from the Bears game, Quinn assessed the utilization of Jones. It was the first game for new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
"It wasn't all the time where it was exclusively going to him all the time, and he's such an unselfish player that he's ready for his opportunities when they come, so, yeah, I thought we could have had some," Quinn said of going to Jones. "Even maybe had an opportunity or two for some big ones to him. It's nothing that he'll ever say because that the type of teammate he is. But yeah, we thought maybe there were a few more opportunities for him in the game.
"He's always a factor in what we do. I did want to point out how physical he did play (blocking) when the ball doesn't come his way. ... Yeah, he's such an important part of what we do. And now that we have the explosiveness and ways to utilize different guys and how to get them the ball, we want to make sure he's always in those thoughts."
Jones said after the game that Bears disguised their coverages well and also said Sarkisian did a good job mixing things up. He noted how the offense took what the defense gave up, with there being holes underneath. Reigning MVP Matt Ryan was 6-of-7 for 172 yards on throws more than 10 yards down the field, completing his first six attempts. He only had one game last season with a higher such completion percentage of throws 10 or more yards down the field -- according to ESPN Stats and Information -- and that was the 14 of 16 he completed against the Panthers in the game when Jones had 300 yards.
But Ryan, like Jones, always looks for even bigger plays down the field, and Ryan found one with a game-changing, 88-yard hook-up with Austin Hooper on a busted coverage. Jones factored into the play both in drawing added coverage to his side and getting down the field to block for Hooper.
As for his opportunities, Jones, of course, believes there were times he was open after beating his man.
"I mean, I pretty much have my guy beat every play," Jones said after the game. "That's my confidence when I'm on the field."
But Jones has never been one of those "diva" receivers who go around demanding the ball. Quinn was asked if it would be OK for Jones to call for the ball more.
"I don't think that's being a diva," Quinn said of calling for the ball. "That part is OK. I love the competitive side of him there. He definitely expresses those things. And him and Matt have such a good connection, a good relationship, they'll often come on the sideline and they'll give a nod and ready to go on to the next one."
Last season, Jones had a "quiet game" during a 33-32 regular-season win against the Packers, finishing with just three catches for 29 yards. Ryan said it was the first game he ever recalled Jones being double covered on every single play. Then in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay, Jones had nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including an explosive 73-yard score.
"We're excited for this matchup," Quinn said. "We know how good Green Bay is. It's going to be a hell of a fight. ... It's a hell of a matchup on all three phases."