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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Enemy Lines: Falcons Seeking Consistency

Atlanta's passing attack hasn't been as explosive since a big win over the Bucs in Week Three, and while O-Line injuries have played a part, Julio Jones says the team just hasn't been consistent in its execution


  • Falcons WR Julio Jones had 161 yards and two TDs against the Bucs in Week Three but hasn't had a play longer than 29 yards since
  • Atlanta still believes it has the pieces to excel on offense but is looking for more consistency from play to play
  • The Falcons know that Tampa Bay's defense is likely to put up a better effort in the rematch

    When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to Atlanta in Week Three for a Thursday night game, fourth-year wide receiver Julio Jones contributed to a Falcon blowout by catching nine passes for 161 yards and two scores. It was a star performance from a proven star player, and not entirely out of the ordinary for Jones.

The sixth-overall draft pick in 2011, Jones had 2,157 yards and 18 touchdowns by the end of his first two seasons, and in five career games against the Bucs he has averaged 111 yards and one touchdown per outing and picked up 19.8 yards per catch. As the 2014 season started, Jones was back from the foot injury that limited him to five games in 2013 and the Falcons' passing attack was reaping the benefits. Through the three games that culminated in that victory over Tampa Bay, Jones had 365 yards and three touchdowns and the 2-1 Falcons were leading the league in almost every passing category.

However, the Falcons haven't won a game since and the Matt Ryan-led passing attack, while still quite good, has had only one 300-yard outing since. Perhaps the most unusual part: Jones, who scored one of his two TDs against the Bucs on an acrobatic 40-yard catch, hasn't been involved in a play longer than 29 yards since. Obviously, Ryan and Jones want to bring more explosive plays back to the Falcons' offense, but the receiver says the more important goal is consistency.

"We're just not executing out there, starting with myself," said Jones. "I've got to go out there and be more consistent. As long as everybody's doing their job and being consistent, we'll be able to turn this thing around."

Jones wasn't the only key Atlanta player who missed a good portion of the 2013 season. A rash of injuries contributed to the Falcons, considered a strong playoff contender going in, crashing from 13-3 in 2012 to 4-12 last year. The team believed it would rebound in 2014, in part due to the return of the injured players and in part because it had addressed what appeared to be its major shortcomings from the year before. That included being far more stout against the run along the front line, and finding a way to be more balanced on the offensive side of the ball. The Falcons have seen improvements in some of those areas but it still hasn't contributed to a turnaround in the team's record. Head Coach Mike Smith agrees with Jones on the reason: A lack of consistency.


WR Julio Jones had 365 yards and three touchdowns during the Falcons' 2-1 start to the season

"We wanted to be a more physical football team and we wanted to be more efficient stopping the run and we really dug ourselves in a hole in the first three games in terms of statistically, but I do believe that we are getting better against the run," said Smith. "We're in the top 12 in yards per carry and that's what you're looking at as one of your markers. You don't necessarily look at the yardage because the game can change very quickly, but we're not playing consistently enough really in any phase. All three phases have had their moments of, 'Uh oh, what the heck just happened?' When you do that and as competitive as this league is, you're not going to get the outcome that we're all fighting for. It's all three phases that have contributed and we've all contributed to it, including coaching."

Obviously, the Falcons' offensive still has the potential to be as explosive as it was in Week Three. While the offensive line has admittedly been shaken by injuries, Ryan and his set of skill-position players remains the same as it was seven weeks ago. Ryan's average amount of time in the pocket has dropped significantly since Week Three, according to Pro Football Focus, but if the new-look front line can start giving him decent protection again, he and Jones could get in a groove again.

"We were out there, we were in a rhythm, we were making plays when they presented themselves," said Jones of the Week Three contest against Tampa Bay. "Matt was throwing great balls, we had great protection, and guys were catching the ball when it was thrown to them."

And, of course, Tampa Bay's defense ranks 31st in the league in pass defense, just ahead of the Falcons' defense, which would suggest an opportunity for Jones to get rolling again. However, neither team looks exactly like it did in Week Three, and on the Bucs' side of the ball, they'll have Gerald McCoy, their most disruptive pass-rusher, in the mix after he missed that first matchup with a hand fracture.

"McCoy's back up front – we've got to control him; he's a game-changer type of player," said Jones. "He can make or break the game for us, so we've got to make sure we can contain him. Their secondary, they moved some stuff around. I see they traded Mark Barron and now they're starting Major [Wright] out there at safety. Of course, their linebackers are good. We've just got to go out there and just take what they give us."

Jones has overcome an injury, too, as he has been slowed in recent games by ankle injury. The Falcons are coming off their bye week and Jones says he's in a good position to start the second half of the season.

"I feel great now," he said. "Other than that, I feel good just being back out there on the field with my teammates and just making plays and just continuing to just keep working with them. We as players, we've got to go out there and take it to Sunday, because we have great weeks of practice and we get to the game and we're not executing."

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