Falcons need to emphasize Julio Jones in the red zone

Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones racked up over 1,400 receiving yards last season but only scored three touchdowns. Matt Ryan and the Falcons need to fix that issue.

No rational NFL fan questions whether or not Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in football. In fact, there are plenty of people who believe he is the best player at his position. The fact that he only scored three touchdowns for the Falcons last season is pretty ridiculous.

We’re not talking about a player who limped through an injury-riddled campaign. Jones caught 88 balls for 1,444 yards on his way to another Pro Bowl in 2017. He was also healthy enough to play in 16 games for the Falcons last year.

The inability to give Jones regular opportunities to catch touchdowns was a failure of the Falcons’ offense. He only got 24 red zone targets last year including the playoffs. He managed to catch nine of those passes but only found pay dirt on three occasions. Curiously, two of his scores came in a regular season loss to the Patriots while the third touchdown game in the playoffs against the Rams.

It’s not as if the Falcons offense identified a really efficient way to score touchdowns without utilizing Jones. The team ranked 23rd in Red Zone efficiency last season after scoring just 50 percent of the time. Clearly, Atlanta needs to put a heightened focus on their work inside the 20 if they want to reach another Super Bowl.

With all due respect to Mohamed Sanu and rookie Calvin Ridley, they need to be afterthoughts for Matt Ryan once this team approaches the goal line. The Falcons’ signal caller needs to go out of his way to give Jones the chance to make plays on early downs near the goal line. Part of that will require better player calling from the coaching staff, but some of the responsibility falls directly onto Ryan’s shoulders. He needs to put the ball up in the air to give his big-bodied wideout a chance to make plays in the end zone.

Next: 5 burning questions for the Falcons in 2018

It may have a slightly negative effect on Ryan’s completion percentage, but that’s a price the Falcons need to be willing to pay. This team needs to get their scoring average back near the 30 point plateau if they’re going to make a deep playoff game. Atlanta has the talent to make that happen, but it’s going to require Jones to approach double-digit touchdowns in 2018.

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