Patrick Peterson talked about shutting down Julio Jones once. Jones went on to catch 10 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. Now, obviously that's false equivocation since the Peterson of last year isn't the Peterson of this year, but the point is this: Covering Julio Jones is really hard. Delvin Breaux was tasked with manning up on Jones several times on Thursday night, and he looked to be more than up to the challenge. Here's how he fared when he matched up with Jones 1v1.
In most formations, Breaux lined up opposite Jones, although he was oftentimes in zone coverage. These plays will be ignored unless Jones remained Breaux's responsibility for the duration of the play.
The Falcons run a clearout route in an attempt to isolate Jones on Breaux topside. Jones runs what's called a Zag route, in which he slants inside and then ducks back out. Breaux is in pure man to man coverage. Jones is the Falcons' primary threat in the red zone, making him the one read on this particular one read play.
Theoretically, Jairus Byrd is Breaux's topside help. Breaux opens his hips to the inside as Jones begins to head towards the middle of the field. Byrd opens his hips towards the sideline, but the right side of the field is wide open. Ryan is looking over the middle of the field to freeze Kenny Vaccaro and Byrd. The inside corner is also cleared out by the drag over the middle of the field.
Breaux, keeping his eyes on Ryan, fluidly adjusts his hips so that he's staying with Jones on Jones's cut. Despite the isolation on the play, Breaux is able to move with Jones and uses a small, deft arm hook to expedite his cut. He does so successfully, staying blanketed on Jones.
At the point of contact, Breaux undercuts Jones and makes a diving breakup. The incompletion forces a long second and goal for Atlanta, and proves that in the red zone Ryan will need to look for another target when #40 is across from Jones.
This play was Jones's only catch directly credited against Breaux. It comes on 1st & 10. Falcons line up in an I-set, ostensibly looking to give to Devonta Freeman. Breaux lines up on Jones topside, once again isolated as the Saints play single safety high with 8 in the box.
Breaux plays Jones inside, knowing that only Byrd is over top to help him. As such, Breaux uses the sideline as his topside help. This is a writer's assumption, but Jones likely has some degree of autonomy over his route tree. That is to say, he can break off his route at any point if he sees space. On this play, he doesn't like his odds over the top against the big-bodied Breaux, and breaks into a 5 yard curl route.
This is about as close to "separation" as Jones got. Breaux allows the catch on the sideline and brings him down immediately for a 5 yard gain. Not a bad first down pickup, but considering the one on one matchup, it's a huge compliment to Breaux to not even challenge him over the top.
The Saints choose to go single high on this play again. Byrd is standing over top, and Breaux is forced to engage Jones 1 on 1 on a slant. Due to the immense size of Jones, this play is tremendously difficult to pull off. In theory, he should have help over the middle over the middle of the field, but for reasons that will be clear as the play unfolds, the linebacker (read: Dannell Ellerbe) will be unable to help Breaux over the middle of the field.
This is clever play design since it isolates both Freeman and Jones, the Falcons' two best weapons. Ellerbe is in man on Freeman, who leaks out on a flat route. This leaves the middle wide open for Jones 1 on 1 with Breaux. Breaux must stay draped over the back of Jones in order to try and make a play on the ball. Byrd remains over the top so as to prevent the deep ball.
Ellerbe has now engaged on Freeman, thus leaving Ryan with a huge gap to throw the ball into. Breaux gives up no separation to Jones, who has finally broken the press set by Breaux. Despite his breaking the press, Breaux remains engaged with Jones throughout the play.
This play emphasizes point of contact. It's a poorly thrown ball by Ryan, slightly behind Jones, and as soon as Jones touches the ball Breaux hits him to dislodge it. Even matched up isolated with Jones and in spite of strong play design, Breaux remains between Jones and the ball without being beat deep.
The execution behind this play is very simple. The Saints play a basic Cover 3 defense. Jones is running a straight fly route. Byrd is playing high, but the Falcons overload the formation opposite Jones and run a flood route. Ryan is only looking to Jones on this play, seeing the matchup.
The moment the ball is snapped, Breaux opens his hips and sprints into his coverage, knowing that Jones has a stride advantage on him. Atlanta usually isolates Jones opposite trips when they're hitting him deep, and Breaux knows this. He also opens his hips to the middle of the field, once again forcing Jones towards the sidelines.
With Byrd occupied with the flood, Breaux stays a few strides ahead of Jones on the fly. This is Ryan's one read play, and he hasn't looked away from Jones once. However, with Breaux ahead of Jones and the pocket beginning to collapse, Ryan is forced to try and make a throw.
The play ends in an overthrow, as Jones gets behind Breaux too late. Breaux has figured out that on these types of plays, it comes down to prolonging the inevitable. The faster, leaner Jones will beat you eventually, you just need to make sure he can't beat you too soon.
Jones was targeted several other times throughout this game, and his final line was actually solid. At 6 catches for 93 yards, he played very well. Breaux limited him to a catch for 5 yards when he was on him. Jones tore through the zone (in which the Saints have been poor all year), but the Saints found a way to generally limit him.
If Breaux can continue to play at the level that he has the past few weeks, he is looking at a very promising future as a Saint. Despite a slow start that involved a series of untimely penalties, Breaux is finally figuring out the NFL. As of now it can be attributed to acclimating to NFL rules from the more physical CFL. This appears to be the case early on, but look for continued success from Breaux to see if it is indeed the case. Games like this are promising, but they're just the start for an NFL corner.