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Atlanta Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones was reminded Thursday about not having a red-zone target through five games, a stat fans seemed to be clinging to while criticizing offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
“No, it’s not a problem for me,” Jones said of the lack of red-zone looks. “If teams are going to continuously try and take me away, as long as we’re scoring touchdowns and as long as we’re getting points, that’s all that matters. Fans with fantasy and things like that, you know at the end of the day we’re trying to win games. … It’s not about stats. I’m not a stat guy. We’re trying to go out here and be successful.”
Jones, who leads the Falcons with 25 receptions, doesn’t have a touchdown yet this season. He’s run 11 routes in the red zone without being targeted.
Sarkisian, who said coming into the season that getting Jones more involved in the red zone would be an emphasis, explained Jones’ lack of opportunities in the red zone from his vantage point.
“One thing that we’re probably one of, if not the most, effective team in the league right now is we’re running the ball really well in the red area,” Sarkisian said. “I think Tevin (Coleman) and Free (Devonta Freeman) have both been very effective. A lot of what we’re doing, the coverage is dedicating to us whether we’re running or whether we’re throwing it. The runs have been available to us.
“The second piece, yeah, sometimes coverages dictate where the ball is going to go. When he’s getting doubled and different things, that’s what you do. That’s smart football. And the third thing, we’ve had a couple missed opps that maybe we’re in the red area but just outside the red area.”
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Sarkisian pointed to three passes from Matt Ryan to Jones in the end zone against Detroit “that we didn’t hit” in explaining Jones not getting more touches.
“That’s football,” Sarkisian said. “Things add up. That’s doesn’t mean we’re not going to keep trying to get him the ball there and trying to be creative to find ways to get him the ball. He’s too good of a player not to do that.
“But we also have to be smart, and smart football is not throwing directly into double coverage and you get interceptions and turnovers in the red zone when you can be efficient. We’ve got a lot of good players on our team. … Not not trying to get him the ball, which we are doing. But when they literally take him away, we’ve got a lot of other good options.”
Sometimes, it’s fair to wonder if the Falcons should try to lob it up to Jones anyway. He’s beaten double coverage before and appears to have his full explosion back following offseason foot surgery and then a recent bout with a hip flexor injury.
“Well, I’m not throwing the ball,” Jones said. “And I don’t know if (Ryan) is under duress. … When do you take those shots? Like I said, because I have all the confidence in the world that the other guys that are getting singled up in man-to-man, they’re going to win their opp.
“When I just go out there, I just try to do my best on every play, regardless of what (the defense) is trying to do. Even though they’ve put two guys on me, I’m still going out there full-speed because I owe it to my brothers to go out there and go full-speed.”
The Falcons, who expect No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu back from a hamstring injury, should have some success Sunday night against a Patriots defense that has struggled to defend the pass and surrendered some big plays. New England also is banged up in the secondary, which is even more reason for the Falcons to have a renewed emphasis in getting Jones the ball.
Taylor Gabriel leads the Falcons with five red-zone targets with one reception and no touchdowns. Tight end Austin Hooper leads the way with three red-zone receptions, on four targets, without a score. Justin Hardy, Tevin Coleman, and Sanu have the Falcons’ three, red-zone touchdown receptions.