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Enter the Falcons: Why Julio Jones won’t go playalistic in the second coming of Dan Quinn

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Everyone’s talking about Atlanta’s star receiver and the former Seahawks assistant, but look closer at the punting personnel

Washington Redskins v Atlanta Falcons
Smoke out in the dungeon
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“…Sleep and you’ll get served with some Southern hospitality…”

Let’s get right to the big concern: Has anyone ever seen the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback and their punter in the same place at the same time?

After Matt Ryan established himself as a rookie in 2008 did he come back the following year with a scheme to double dip against the league’s salary cap? Apparently Ryan secretly shaved his Carson Daly haircut and has been lowkey wearing a wig for the past 8 years—at least when he’s in the game as himself. Then as soon as Atlanta has to punt Ryan removes the hairpiece, puts on a fake mustache and affixes extra letters to his nameplate Ochocinco-style to make his contractual appearance as Matt (B)ryan(t) and drive the football through the air with his leg. This is so bush league it’s almost savvy; do you think Russell Wilson would get away with trading places with some counterpart named Rumpel Wilbon every punting down? Why isn’t the Falcons’ field goal kicker Max O’Ryan?

Keep an eye out for these costume changes whenever Atlanta fails to convert third downs Sunday (which they’ve done 61 percent of the time in 2016, a pretty mediocre quotient for the top offense and not an auspicious figure for countering Seattle’s league-best 72 percent stop rate).

As for other transformative players on the Falcons, Wednesday Briam Nemhauser wrote, “Ryan will target Julio Jones, and he will be productive.” Is that really a certainty?

People went crazy about Julio Jones after he caught 12 passes for 300 yards two weeks ago against Carolina. Jones’ yards per reception is a crazymaking 21.5 on the year, indeed, but the Falcons have played five games and literally half of Jones’s catches are in that one game. The Panthers, whose defensive backfield is just a post oak with a handwritten PLEASE KEEP OUT sign, account for 58 percent of his 515 yards. Jones’s production is 54 yards a game otherwise.

Yes, Jones was nursing a twisted ankle to start the year, but he’s now gone five weeks and only caught more than five balls that one time. In two of the past three matchups, Jones managed one reception for 16 yards and then two catches for 29 yards. The Denver Broncos were a worthy nemesis last week, but the first of those outings was against the New Orleans Saints.

However, partly that’s because teams exhaust their resources trying to harness Jones, but the Seahawks sound like they will rely on Richard Sherman man to man like they did against Brandon Marshall and the New York Jets. Even if the Seahawks give safety help, the explosive attraction Jones’s talent furnishes have allowed the Falcons to find success distributing the ball elsewhere, to running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and tight ends Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper. Tamme is the possession guy but Hooper has produced the big plays. As the Undefeated’s Dominique Foxworth illustrated in his indispensable All-22 column last week, even in the Carolina game “[Kyle] Shanahan’s craftiest plays were not designed to get Jones the ball.”

Against the Broncos, Coleman was the beneficiary, stacking 132 yards on just four catches. Ryan only completed 15 throws all day but thanks to yards after catch was generally efficient, averaging 9.8 adjusted net yards per attempt even though the passes went predominantly underneath. Only six of Ryan’s 28 passes Sunday traveled beyond 20 yards in the air.

This might sound scary to a viewer accustomed to watching the Seahawks defense succumb to interminable throws to the flat, but the good news is: On the other side of the ball, Atlanta’s version of the Seattle defense has got to drive Falcons fans way more nuts. I considered writing about the “Pete Carroll coaching tree” this week—tracing coaching lineage is one of my favorite subjects—but the truth is Dan Quinn is barely a Carroll disciple.

Remember, Quinn originally joined the Seahawks as Jim Mora’s defensive line coach, and then he was coaching the Florida Gators’ defense when Seattle really established its formidable presence from 2011-12. I’m sure Quinn learned from Carroll, and he definitely gets credit for supervising the historic 2013 squad. Much is made about Quinn trying to build the Falcons’ D in the mold of that legendary Legion of Boom, but he and Gus Bradley both were really more front-seven complements to Carroll’s defensive backfield mastermind. These guys were continuity hires, not scheme architects, together at first to bridge the initial Carroll transition and then Quinn when he returned to take over for Bradley.

Coaching takes time to germinate as Carroll well knows, but the Quinn Qrew (© John Fraley) was in the bottom third of DVOA defending both run and pass in 2015 and things are not better so far this season. All numerical indicators agree with FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine, who says, “This year’s Falcons have played even worse defensively than they did through five games last year.”

With respect to Quinn the pupil and Carroll the sensei, you might almost say … the Falcon cannot hear the falconer?

Then again Atlanta did sack Paxton Lynch six times last week. Wilson ought to be able to get the ball out faster than Lynch, who held the ball longer than three seconds on 20 separate dropbacks, but you never know what happens with the Seahawks offensive line. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Either way we got some real players in this game and the matchup will be decided, as always, not with coaching history but by players doing what the players do.

What it look like for the oaskie woaskie?