PHILADELPHIA — Julio Jones is the kind of wide receiver that can strike fear into opposing defenses. He’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, with the production to match his Herculean physique.
The Philadelphia Eagles are tasked with dealing with Jones on Saturday when they host the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field in a divisional-round playoff matchup. They plan to approach the challenge with uncommon bravado. They’re not overly concerned with Jones jumping over their heads to make a catch or beating them clean off the line for a big play.
“Nothing scares me. Can’t have no fear at all,” said cornerback Ronald Darby, who was acquired by the Eagles earlier this season specifically for occasions such as this. “Every receiver can do the same thing he can — catch the ball and score.”
Jones just does both with more regularity than the normal receiver, and often in more spectacular fashion. He had four plays of 40 or more yards this season. The Eagles still insist they aren’t afraid to play Jones physically at the line of scrimmage despite his size and speed.
“You can if you’re a physical corner. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen corners this year, like Lattimore and a couple other guys, who have challenged him at the line of scrimmage,” veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “If they can hold up to the physicality, they will do well with it.”
It may be easier said than done. Despite the aggressive play by the likes of Lattimore, Jones had five catches for 98 yards and seven receptions for 149 yards in two games against the Saints this season. The only saving grace was that Jones didn’t find the end zone in either contest.
“You have to know how to play different receivers in different ways. But you can press,” Darby said. “Go back and watch film. A lot of people press. [Lattimore] from the Saints did it. A lot of people get up in his face. You just have to know what comes with it. [Mess] up, and it’s going to be a big play.”
The Eagles played against three of the top 10 receivers this season. They held Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill to under 55 yards. They allowed San Diego’s Keenan Allen to catch five passes for 138 yards.
The Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. had nine catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns in Week 3. So, the Eagles’ success against top receivers was mixed.
The last time they faced Jones (midway through last season), he was matched primarily one-on-one against Jalen Mills. Jones had 10 catches for 135 yards.
Mills, who was a rookie at the time, also likes to play physical at the line of scrimmage and has a similar frame to Lattimore. Mills is listed at 6-foot, 191 pounds. Lattimore is 6-foot, 192 pounds.
Jones has 3 inches and close to 30 pounds on both. That is quite a size advantage.
“He’s just a big guy who can run,” Mills said earlier this week in anticipation of the matchup. “Sometimes you get a lot of big guys — they’re big targets who can catch the ball. He’s a guy who can run at his size and can run routes as well. He’s not just a one-trick pony.”
No matter what the Eagles do, they expect Jones to get his opportunities. He averages over nine targets per game. He had 10 in Atlanta’s wild-card win over the Los Angeles Rams last week. Jones had nine catches for 94 yards in that contest. He’s going to make plays against the Eagles. They insist the key is to not back down and limit the damage.
“The biggest thing is making sure that the biggest plays don’t go for touchdowns,” Jenkins said. “You keep him in front of you, tackle him well in space. He’s going to rack up some yards. You have to be OK with that. The biggest thing is you can’t let him go over the top and score touchdowns. That changes games completely.”
They will see if the approach works come Saturday night.