FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Deion Jones is not one to duck a challenge. He came into the NFL wanting to face the best of the best.
The second-year Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker certainly puts Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro, in that top tier.
“He’s a good back -- fast,” Jones said of McCoy. “He’s really quick. He’s got some moves.”
McCoy might be the toughest running-back challenge for the Falcons so far this season, although rookie Tarik Cohen from the Chicago Bears made things rather interesting in the season opener. The numbers would indicate McCoy is struggling, considering he’s averaging a mere 2.9 yards per carry with 140 yards on 48 carries without a rushing touchdown. But Jones and the Falcons, who have surrendered 4.81 yards per rushing play through three games, won’t underestimate McCoy.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound McCoy can be just as dangerous out of the backfield as a receiver. He caught a career-high 78 passes in 2010 with the Philadelphia Eagles and has had 50-plus catches four times in his career. This season, McCoy is the Bills’ leading receiver with 18 catches for 131 yards, including a long play of 21 yards. He’s been targeted by quarterback Tyrod Taylor a team-high 20 times and is averaging 7.3 yards per reception.
“Of course I’ve watched him in the past. That’s Shady,” said Jones, referencing McCoy’s nickname. “I mean he’s good a matchup, a matchup that you hope for as a linebacker, going against a guy like that who is explosive, fast, and making moves. He’s a playmaker.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn agreed.
"He’s such a dangerous guy with the ball, especially when he gets out into space,” Quinn said of McCoy. “He has the ability to run full speed, and then make a cut to go. You can see why he’s such an effective zone runner.
“The screen game is also where he’s a real factor, when he can get on guys and run option routes on linebackers. A linebacker or a safety may have a certain leverage on a player, and that’s when you try to break guys off in man-to-man. You set him up one way, and break the other way. That’s what really good change-of-direction players can do.”
Opposing teams have stacked the box against McCoy thus far to keep him from getting going in the run game, and the Falcons are certainly planning to swarm him as well. The key factor could end up being any one-on-one matchups Jones draws with McCoy in coverage.
Last week, Jones was asked to contend with Lions running back Theo Riddick, who was targeted nine times and came up with four catches for 38 yards. Jones won his share of their battles, and made a punishing hit that caused Riddick to drop the ball on one play.
The Falcons rely a lot on their zone coverage, but Jones welcomes any one-on-one opportunity, particularly against McCoy. When McCoy does get the ball, Jones has to be a sure tackler.
“I’ve just got to stick my technique,” Jones said. “I’ve got to keep my leverage, whatever leverage it is. Just play my style of ball.”