I’ve got it! After studying film I’ve compiled a strategy for the Texans cornerbacks to completely shut down Julio Jones. Unfortunately that strategy calls for the Texans defensive backs to also locate Big Foot’s whereabouts, take selfies with the Loch Ness Monster, disprove Einstein’s theory of relativity and acquire a DeLorean and drive back to the night of the 2011 draft to convince Rick Smith to select Richard Sherman in the 5th round.
Since it’s not practical or realistic to take this approach between now and kickoff on Sunday, here are some things that I think that the Texans defensive backs can do to minimize the damage from the “manimal”.
1. Be Physical on the line of scrimmage: Perhaps the most physical of the Texans defensive backs is Kareem Jackson. In terms of physical stature, Jackson (5’10, 188) is dwarfed by Jones (6’3, 220) but he is not afraid to get into a much bigger guy’s mix within the first 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. The goal is to try to disrupt the timing between Jones and Matt Ryan.
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One individual who has experienced moderate success vs Jones is cornerback Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers. Norman limited Jones to 4 catches, 58 yards and zero touchdowns in 8 targets, and a longest reception of 20 yards in a game last year. Watch the film as Norman denies Jones access to the flat, and shadows his movement on the snap. You will also notice that he is extremely close to Jones not allowing any room for him to get started into his route (see picture below).
In this scenario after the snap the safety shoots over to cover the flat and Norman turns his hips outside forcing Jones to cut inside where he also has help from the weak side linebacker. This is called a “vertical bracket” because it minimizes the receiver’s ability to get down field to make big plays and literally forces them to settle for shorter routes.
Covering a guy like Jones requires someone who isn’t afraid to get burned in man coverage, because a guy with his talent certainly can and will if he sees an opportunity to do so. Safeties are simply going to have to help out.
2. Make plays on the football, not on his body: Seems simple huh? Yeah right..but Jones is extremely dangerous when he has the football. It’s important to get to him quickly if a pass does make it into his hands and get him on the ground immediately. There simply isn’t a way to completely deny Jones the ball. The goal here is to let him catch the ball where the Texans DBs can work together to keep him under wraps.
Once at the catch point, Norman turns his solid coverage into making a play on the ball. He reached inside of Jones and legally disrupts the receiver during the process of tracking the ball into his hands:
3. Do not let him run after the catch: Tackling will be critical in slowing down Julio Jones. Arguably Jones is the best in the league when it comes to making plays in open space. By placing him in a bracket coverage, being physical on the line and ensuring that a defender is always within 5 yards of him his ability to be creative in the open field will be minimized.
The trick to all of this is to do it without Jones and Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shannahan recognizing it. Expect the Texans to adopt a similar approach to this to cover Jones but they will show multiple looks while doing so in order to disguise the plan. We’ll see how it turns out on Sunday.