With the Falcons missing a couple of offensive weapons for the foreseeable future, look for them to lean on the talented wide receiver duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
Jones and Ridley torched the Panthers for 14 catches and 234 yards and one touchdown in a 29-3 win Sunday in Charlotte.
“It felt good to help the team to get a win, for us to get the ball and get it going,” Ridley said. “It felt good.”
Ridley caught 8 of 8 targets for 143 yards and a 6-yard touchdown. Jones caught 6 of 8 targets for 91 yards.
It was their highest combined yardage in a win. Last season, the former Alabama stars combined for 242 receiving yards in a loss to the Saints on Sept. 23 and for 240 yards in a loss to the Saints on Nov. 22. His performance Sunday was Ridley’s third career 100-yard game and second of the season.
“It was a good day for those two guys,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “They played us in a single-high coverage, a lot of one-on-ones, and what a lot of teams do is when they are playing single-high, they cheat that free safety towards Julio. That leaves Calvin one-on-one, and he won his matchups.”
After the trade of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu coupled with the injuries to tight end Austin Hooper (knee) and running back Devonta Freeman (foot), quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones needed some help carrying the offense, and Ridley was ready for the challenge.
“When those opportunities are there, you’ve got to deliver,” coach Dan Quinn said of Ridley.
Ridley has 44 receptions for 614 yards and five touchdowns. He’s on pace to catch 70 passes for 982 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Those numbers would surpass his rookie season output, which saw Ridley catch 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“Cal works really hard in practice, and Calvin wants to be a playmaker,” Koetter said. “Sometimes he gets frustrated because he doesn’t get as many opportunities. We’ve talked about that before. (Against the Panthers), he got the opportunities.”
The Panthers tried to jam Ridley at the line of scrimmage.
“He had excellent speed off the line of scrimmage,” Koetter said. “Even though they tried to press him at times, he kind of ran through the press coverage.”
Ridley is staying patient on his double-move routes.
“A lot of times guys will rush that route, and they’ll come out of it too early, and the safety will jump it,” Koetter said. “Same thing with his touchdown, down in the red zone, he really showed good patience in there setting it up. Matt was going to look at Julio first and then come back to him on the back side of that. He did a nice job of showing patience there as well.”
Ridley has worked on staying patient with his route-running.
“I know on certain routes that I’ve got extra time because Matt has extra protection, so I can take my time to work the DB and leverage him to get open,” Ridley said. “I think I did a really good job of just being patient in my routes and not coming out (of my breaks) early.”
There’s plenty of room for Ridley to shine, now.
“Any time you have multiple playmakers, it’s a good problem to have, but they all want the ball,” Koetter said. “There’s one ball and everybody wants it. Guys like Cal, they’re used to being the main guy all the time. We have other guys, and it’s a good thing.”
If Jones and Ridley have to carry the offense again, they are ready.
“Oh yeah, we are ready,” Ridley said. “Whatever we have to do, we’re going to do it to help the team win.”
Jones was not surprised by the output.
“Our number was getting called,” Jones said. “We had the matchup of the day, and we went out there, executed and made the most of our opportunities.”
Jones is not sure if the offense will have to lean on the wide receivers.
“I don’t know,” Jones said. “It’s just whatever the defense gives us. We are just trying to score points, that the biggest thing, scoring points.”
Jones had 144 and 138 yards receiving against the Bucs last season. Ridley had 47 and 32 yards last season. The Bucs have a new coaching staff, and former Jets coach Todd Bowles is the defensive coordinator.
“I don’t know what they are going to do,” Jones said. “We’ve seen a couple teams that kind of play similar to us, where they’ll play (Cover-2), zone or sometimes they’ll just play man. So, we just have to see and wait until the game comes and see what they do, if they throw everything at us, it will be fine. We just have to work on everything and be ready.”
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