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Julio Jones is typically the main driver of the Falcons offense. Last year, he had 33% of all Atlanta targets, and in 2014, he had 28% of Atlanta’s targets in the 15 games he played. But, as Adam Harstad noted, Jones has just under 20% of Atlanta’s targets this year.

Entering the season, Jones had averaged over 100 receiving yards per game over his previous 57 games, while the book on Matt Ryan was that he had reached his ceiling (or was on the downward slope of his career).

But this year, Ryan leads the league in yards per attempt, while the Falcons lead the NFL in both points and yards. If I told you that before the season, you would probably have guessed that Jones had about 500 yards, but in fact, he’s having a below-average year by his standards: he’s averaging a career low 63 yards per game, likely due to a calf injury that kept him to just 16 yards last week.

But right now, Ryan is averaging 9.4 yards per pass on throws to Jones, and and 9.5 yards per pass on throws to everyone else! Regular readers know I am not a fan of yards per target, but it is interesting to look at in certain situations. Let’s take a look at Atlanta’s breakdown:

PlayerTargetRecYdsYd/Tar
Julio Jones20101889.4
Jacob Tamme20141547.7
Mohamed Sanu17111307.6
Tevin Coleman111016715.2
Devonta Freeman99758.3
Justin Hardy74344.9
Aldrick Robinson64437.2
Taylor Gabriel545210.4
Austin Hooper449824.5
Levine Toilolo222110.5
Patrick DiMarco1188.0
Team Total102739709.5

So what do you think? What’s your explanation, and what do you project to happen the rest of the year?

  • Adam

    It could be that defenses are doubling teaming Julio and leaving Atlanta’s other receivers open. But I think it’s mainly a function of the Falcons concentrating on short passes this season and forgoing the deep jump balls that Julio specializes in. I believe Matt Ryan has the most YAC per completion in the league so far, which is a departure from the trends of seasons past.

    • I lost some faith in Sporting Charts YAC numbers this week, when they indicated Ryan had -20 of his yards vs NO come through the air.

      • Adam

        That’s really weird, because his air yard / YAC split was correct earlier this week (and it matched with the splits at NFLGSIS). His air % was around 45% and now it’s suddenly dropped to 40.9% without playing a game. Must be a coding error. I’ll email them and get it fixed!

        • That would be great. I was using them for NTAYP, but I had second thoughts about it when I saw that.

  • Richie

    My initial assumption is that the Tampa Bay, Oakland and New Orleans defenses have a lot to do with it

  • Wesley Brandemuehl

    To my admittedly untrained eye, it looks like Tevin Coleman is pulling up the numbers a fair bit. Given his status as a running back and the high catch percentage, these are likely checkdowns that get a lot of YAC. How much of that is him and how much of that is the terrible defenses they’ve played, I don’t know. Something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

  • For reference:

    Matt Ryan, 2011-2015: 9.66 yards per attempt on 637 passes targeted to Julio Jones. He averaged 7.07 on passes to all other players, and 7.62 yards per attempt overall on targeted passes (there were 96 passes he threw with no targeted receiver, which would mostly be throwaways and spikes; but that’s why Ryan’s Y/A is 7.38 over this period).

    In 2016, he’s at 9.4 on passes to Jones, and 9.54 on passes to other receivers (with one throwaway). Obviously the sample size is tiny, but something to monitor.

    • Richie

      Watching the game today, Ryan seems to have a million different guys to throw to. Is he using more different players to throw to than usual?

      Was Roddy White holding him back somehow?

  • Josh Sanford

    Seems like someone in Atlanta read this post yesterday.