Early Bird Report: How the Falcons can get more scores for Julio Jones

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Julio Jones is undoubtedly among the very best wide receivers in the NFL, and he's arguably the best. Capable of running any route, out-muscling any defender and coming up with catches that nobody else could, Jones is a singular weapon for the Falcons.

If there's one qualm that fans have had over the years, it's that Jones doesn't catch enough touchdown passes. Jones had six touchdown catches last season, and he often is below the top-tier receivers in that department. A large reason for that, however, is the sheer amount of plays in which he sees double coverage. That coverage only increases as the Falcons get closer to the end zone.

ESPN's Vaughn McClure spoke with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter about increasing Jones’s touchdown totals. Koetter was running Atlanta's offense in 2012, when Jones reached a career-high 10 touchdown catches.

"I really think for Julio to get more touchdowns, it has to come on either deep throws -- deeper throws where you take your shots whether it be go balls or deep posts -- or it has to be stuff like slants and intermediate routes where Julio breaks or spins out of a tackle," Koetter told McClure. "Or like the Philly game: a screen where he catches it, gets a great block from Jake [Matthews], and he runs for [54] yards. I think he's going to have to run some in."

A good example of how Jones could likely take advantage of defenses shifting attention away from him is Calvin Ridley, who has benefited from the increased focus his counterpart receives. Ridley has a combined 17 touchdown catches in his two seasons with the Falcons.

A pivotal rookie for each NFL team

For the Atlanta Falcons to accomplish what they want to, they will need to be better on the back end of the defense. The team drafted corner A.J. Terrell in the first round of the draft to help solidify the secondary, and he's looked every bit as advertised thus far in camp. Entering the season, NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein named Terrell as the pivotal rookie for Atlanta.

"The Falcons were in the bottom third of most pass-defense categories, so they have to be hoping that Terrell can make an early difference," Zierlein writes. "With New Orleans and Tampa in the same division, a bumpy rookie season for the corner could mean more of the same for Atlanta, while a solid year gives the Falcons a fighting playoff shot."

Week 1 Sunday Ticket rankings

Those fans who want to spend all day Sunday locked in and flipping to the best NFL games of the weekend are in luck. Pro Football Focus writer Ben Linsey has compiled a ranking of each game this weekend based on how entertaining and watchable they should be. Among the early games on Sunday, the Falcons-Seahawks matchup ranks second.

"The Seahawks made their way to an 11-5 record despite their pass defense — a contrast to much of the recent past when that unit was a definitive strength," Linsey writes. "In 2019, they were carried by turnovers but ranked just 25th in yards per pass play allowed (6.7). Quandre Diggs played well following the midseason trade that brought him to Seattle. He, along with the offseason additions of Jamal Adams and Quinton Dunbar, should go a long way toward rebuilding this secondary, assuming that Dunbar is on the field to start the season. Adams ranked fifth among safeties in overall grade in 2019, and Dunbar ranked second at the cornerback position. Bring on the NFL's best wide receiver."

Week 1 NFL picks

The Atlanta Falcons need to get out to a fast start in 2020, and that begins on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle started the 2019 season with a 7-2 record, which helped them reach the postseason even after faltering slightly down the stretch.

The Falcons, meanwhile, reversed that approach and finished the year as hot as any team despite falling out of playoff contention before their bye week. NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal likes Atlanta's momentum to carry over into its season opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He picks the Falcons to win a very close 24-23 game against the Seahawks.

"Slow starts have plagued Pete Carroll and his former assistant Dan Quinn," Rosenthal writes. "There's no telling how an actual plague-like virus will impact that, but one of them gets to start 1-0 on Sunday. This will be our first peak at whether the Seahawks have any interest in letting Russ cook with a higher volume of throws earlier in games this season and whether Carroll finally moves off his base defense of three linebackers after a strong camp by expected nickel corner Marquise Blair. The Falcons hope their defensive improvement under coordinator Raheem Morris late last season carries over, with an ideal first matchup to do so. This reconfigured Seahawks offensive line looks like birdseed for Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley and sneaky good free-agent pickup Dante Fowler."

2020 QB power rankings

No position in the NFL garners more debate and discussion than quarterbacks, and for good reason. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has long been one of the best on the field, winning the league's MVP award in 2016 and the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2008. Entering the 2020 season, however, CBSSports.com writer Cody Benjamin has him just inside the top 10 at the No. 9 spot.

"The interception bug was back in 2019, but you pretty much always know what you're going to get with Ryan," Benjamin writes. "He's also had an on-and-off leap into MVP-caliber numbers as of late, and 2020 would mark an "on" year. With his receivers, it's possible."

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