Jones, Ryan still working to recapture offensive prowess

Falcons Julio Jones and Matt Ryan confer during the second half against the Saints in a NFL football game on Thursday, December 7, 2017, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/
Falcons Julio Jones and Matt Ryan confer during the second half against the Saints in a NFL football game on Thursday, December 7, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/



Get the ball in the hands of your best playmaker. This season it's been easier said than done for the Atlanta Falcons.

The chemistry between Matt Ryan and Julio Jones hasn't been as strong this year. Consequently, Atlanta's offense doesn't have the same fluidity as it did in 2016. Atlanta had the NFL’s second ranked offense a year ago. This season, the Falcons have slipped to No. 9. Some, if not most, of that can be attributed to new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian who joined the team in February when Kyle Shanahan departed to be head coach of the 49ers. Obviously, injuries are always a factor too.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn is optimistic things will progress even with two regular-season games remaining. Quinn conceded that all areas need improvement from what he’s gathered from watching film.

“I don't feel like in all three phases, in all parts of our game that we've played at our best. So that's why I'm so lit up in a good way to think that there are some areas and spots we can go to,” Quinn said. “So there's no greater feeling knowing that we're chasing that and battling for it and that lights me up in a big way as a coach."

As for the offensive side, finger pointing can go an assortment of different ways. Though, at this point of the season the Falcons are focused on finding the rhythm on offense similar to what the team demonstrated a year ago in these next two NFL South-defining games. On the field, that starts with Ryan and Jones.

We’ve not seen the pair clicking on all cylinders. Jones played in 14 regular-season games last season due to foot problems. His 2016 campaign ended with 83 catches, 1,409 yards and six touchdowns on 129 targets in 14 contests. He’s compiled 76 catches, 1,215 catches and three touchdowns on 126 targets in the exact number of games this year. Not a huge decline, nevertheless, noticeable.

“We’ll definitely get going. It's all about winning games. We are just trying to find ways to win games,” Jones said Thursday. “If me and Matt [Ryan] need to be on the same page to win a game we will definitely do so. Obviously it helps. It's a lot easier when we are on the same page to get the offense moving. Making big plays, big explosive plays.”

Since Jones’ dominant Week 12 performance (12 catches, 253 yards and two touchdowns) he’s hauled in just 10 catches on 32 targets. Excluding his Nov. 26 outing, the fireworks haven’t been on display much.

The connection just hasn’t been as smooth. Jones’ seven dropped passes and Ryan’s passer rating being 15 points down from last season are evidence of a slight lapse.

“We just got to keep working. It's just here and there [and] hit and miss. Things like that,” Jones said. “At the end of the day it's on the offense. We just got to make those plays come to life and hit more of those."

The connection returns between Jones and Ryan are going to have an essential role in Sunday’s showdown versus the Saints and in the team’s regular-season finale against the Panthers. Ryan is confident the explosiveness between he and Jones will be there on a consistent basis from here on out.

“It happens from time to time where we just haven't hit as many as we need to. But we will. I certainly expect us to and expect us to go out there and play well. He'll do a great job for us Sunday there's no question about that,” Ryan said of Jones.

Jones, invited to his fifth Pro Bowl on Tuesday, will be matched up with the Saints’ newly elected Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore for much of Sunday’s tilt. The Saints picked off two passes intended for Jones in the last matchup. Lattimore was the recipient of one interception and drew an offensive pass interference call in the Dec. 7 meeting. Jones finished with five receptions for 98 yards in a 20-17 win.

This time around he might not be at 100 percent, although, nobody really is at the latter portion of the season.

Jones missed Atlanta’s Wednesday practice and only participated in the team’s walkthrough session on Thursday. The star wideout sustained an ankle injury on the second play of the game in the team’s 24-21 win over the Buccaneers last week. The Falcons are being cautious with their star receiver. There’s no concern amongst anybody about Jones’ availability Sunday.

“I feel good. I feel really good. Well rested,” Jones said.

Jones and the Falcons aren’t going to make any excuses with the division waning in the balance. The receiver appears focused on the task at hand and being a major part of the outcome.

“No excuses,” Jones said. “We just got to keep working on trying to hit those plays.”

After all, the Falcons are in an advantageous situation. Even without Ryan and Jones playing at the level of 2016, Atlanta controls its fate in the NFC South. Win out, a second-consecutive division title is accomplished.

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