Julio Jones led the NFL with 100.6 receiving yards per game in 2016, averaging 5.9 receptions per contest.
A year earlier, he led the league in receiving yards per game at a bonkers clip of 116.9.
But he was only targeted four times. This was, amazingly, only the fourth time in Jones’ NFL career that he was targeted four or fewer times, and the first since Week 12 of 2011, his rookie season, when he left a tilt with the Minnesota Vikings early due to injury.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff, plus the lingering effects of an injury, had a lot to do with the dearth of opportunities for Jones.
On NBC’s Do Your Job Part 2: Bill Belichick and the 2016 Patriots, which premiered on Sunday, Belichick revealed the Patriots’ strategy for limiting one of the league’s best receivers.
“We noticed that Julio, from a defensive standpoint, most of his routes went from our right to left,” Belichick said. “So he would plant on his left foot and explode on in-cuts from the right side of the ball. But he didn’t run too many routes going to the right, and when he did, he kind of rolled them and didn’t have the same explosiveness coming out of those cuts. So we felt he might be favoring the foot or the ankle a little bit. So we tried to overplay the routes going to our left.”
According to Patriots coaches, it’d been two months since Jones caught a pass while running a pattern like the one that resulted in his personal game-high 27-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
“December fourth would have been the last time he caught an outbreaking route going to his left, our right,” added cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer.
Jones missed two games due to injury in December 2016, and had surgery on his foot a month after the Falcons’ devastating, historic loss in the Super Bowl.