The Giants and Falcons have two of the most dynamic, exciting, productive wide receivers in the NFL. Between them, they have caught one touchdown pass this season.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones will be on the field Monday night in Atlanta, and every defensive player and coach in the building will be looking at them and thinking the same thing.
“We are not letting this guy beat us,” Giants safety Landon Collins said of the mindset. “That’s how it’s gonna be. That’s how people attack Odell, how people attack Julio. You try to take them out of the game so you have a better chance of winning.”
That doesn’t make them less effective overall. Beckham (45) and Jones (44) have a combined 89 receptions this season, and only four players in the NFL have more than either of them. Both are in the top nine in receiving yards. But their reputations — they’re not just playmakers, they’re game-wreckers — force opponents to do whatever they can to keep them out of the end zone. With their teams inside the 20-yard line, they have one reception between them. Only Beckham has caught a touchdown pass.
“Obviously, when you go into a game, you have to make sure, especially down in the red zone where both of them have such a big catching radius and aggressively go after it, that you make sure these two guys get special attention,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It is surprising that between them they don’t have more [touchdowns]. However, I think that is a function or a byproduct of special attention going their way.”
It’s undoubtedly frustrating for a star, but it actually may be one of the highest honors a player can receive. Sterling Shepard called it the “next echelon.”
“If you’re a playmaker and you consistently make plays, it draws more attention to you,” he said. “That’s what they do with guys like Odell and Julio.”
Added fellow Giants receiver Russell Shepard: “People want to see those guys score and put up crazy numbers, but [defenses], there are crazy things they do to stop those guys . . . It’s a compliment, man. When teams do things like that to take you out of the game, that means you’re doing something to get their attention. It’s definitely a compliment.”
Ideally, drawing such defensive attention should open opportunities for others, and for both teams, it has to a certain extent. The Giants have had at least two passing touchdowns on plays that were designed to be thrown to Beckham but were legislated to different players by the coverage. For the Falcons, rookie Calvin Ridley has six touchdowns in only 22 receptions.
The good news for the Giants’ defense is that they don’t have to go far to see how teams have kept Jones out of the end zone this season. They just have to watch their own games and mimic what other defenses have done to Beckham.
“It’s not new,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said of trying to limit star players. “It’s just the way the world works, and I think the players and the teams change, but sometimes it’s the same narrative.”
Of course, there are plenty of players who are able to overcome such schemes. The Steelers’ Antonio Brown and the Packers’ Davante Adams both have six touchdown catches and play against defenses that are focusing on stopping them.
For Beckham and Jones, though, being the most dangerous player on the team is coming at a cost this season. The price is visits to the end zone. Beckham and Jones are different players in different systems, but each week they face the same challenge of being the defensive priority for their opponent.
“In our league today, there are a handful of receivers who garner that kind of special attention,” Quinn said. “And it just so happens that two of them are matched up this weekend.”
JULIO JONES ODELL BECKHAM JR.
44 RECEPTIONS 45
708 YARDS 506
16.1 AVG, 11.2
58 LONG GAIN 33
32 FIRST DOWNS 26
0 TDs 1