Target Practice, Week 12: Where’s Julio?

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Pictured above, you'll see Julio Jones' lone target from Week 12, a deep shot that he failed to haul in — and even if he'd caught the ball, the gain would have been erased by an offensive PI penalty.

So Jones had exactly one chance to put his name in the box score and he couldn't make the play. Thus, it's tough to spin his Week 12 performance as anything other than a letdown. He finished nowhere near the top of the target leader board. Julio was facing a defense that ranks 29th against the pass, yet he caught nothin'. Zero catches, zero yards, zero fantasy points. Bad day.

But here's the thing: Football, at the pro level, can be pretty [expletive] complicated. For a big play to come together, many small events need to occur successfully in concert. The stars don't always align. And sometimes they do align, but a quarterback looks elsewhere.

I just finished a re-watch of Minnesota-Atlanta, focusing on Jones. Going in, I'd expected to see him used exclusively as a decoy, maybe bothered by injury, struggling to separate. Instead I saw a guy who got open with ease. Jones, to my eye, looked great. He didn't have much trouble shaking Minnesota's corners and he blocked the hell out of Cedric Griffin on running plays.

As a multi-league Julio owner, I'm feeling OK ... almost encouraged. If just a small handful of plays would have gone differently, he would have delivered a big fantasy number.

Let's review Jones' afternoon, screencap-style. You're looking for No. 11...

See, there he is ^ bottom left, stressing the defense. But Matt Ryan went short to Michael Palmer for a gain of five. Safe choice, solid pickup. No complaints. Three plays later, Ryan went long to Julio and the rookie was flagged for pushing off. But at least his hamstring didn't explode.

Here's Jones getting open on an inside-breaking route (upper right corner), while his quarterback fires to Tony Gonzalez:

Gonzo caught nine passes on nine targets against the Vikes, and he picked up nine yards on the completion above. Again, no complaints — about anyone. Ryan delivered his highest passer rating of the year (128.2), Gonzalez was perfect, and Roddy White had a ridiculously productive day (10-120-1). No scraps for Julio.

But here's a play that could have easily resulted in a 24-yard Jones score:

That's Julio at the top, the blur at the 21. He'd just smoked Griffin, getting an easy release. Ryan is clearly targeting Jones, too, so this thing should end in six points for Atlanta ... but just a half-second later, Minnesota's Kevin Williams blew everything up.

In an instant, Williams was in Ryan's face. Strip-sack. Ryan managed to fall on the fumble, resulting in a loss of eight. Jones got zilch, even though he beat his man decisively. So it goes.

I'm pretty sure Jones was also the primary option on a slow-developing play late in the third quarter, a roll-out where Minnesota's defense forced a short underhand toss to Roddy (completed for a first down). Again, Julio had a chance yet he came away with zero. Not his fault. Not Ryan's fault. No one's fault.

Here's a particularly painful image if you're a Jones owner:

Yup, that's our guy Julio, No. 11, waving his arms on the goal line, alone and unbothered. He's basically as open as any NFL receiver has ever been. The ball, however, was already on its way to No. 81, Palmer, for a 3-yard TD.

Bottom line: Jones looked just fine on Sunday. He took starter's snaps, he separated from coverage, and he certainly wasn't absent from the game plan (just the stat sheet). Yes, he received some sideline maintenance from the training staff, but it was all precautionary:

When Atlanta's offense was off the field, Jones worked with athletic trainers and did stretches on the sideline to keep the hamstring from tightening up.

"It wasn't hurting or nothing, but I was just trying to keep it moving. They limited my reps just in case. Everything's fine. I'm good to go," Jones said.

I see no reason to panic here, nor to bench. Let's recall that Jones has three 100-yard games to his credit and he delivered the catch of the year back in Week 9. I started him in three leagues on Sunday, taking three donuts, but I'm rolling with him again in Week 13. He remains a serious fantasy asset. Again: Don't panic, don't drop. Just as you can't fall into the trap of chasing last week's stats, you also can't overreact to every disappointing performance.

And with that out of the way, we present the full list of Week 12 target leaders, where you will obviously not find Julio...

Odds & ends: Brandon Lloyd hasn't seen fewer than nine targets in any game since joining the Rams in Week 7, and he's found the end zone in four of his last five. We don't normally expect that sort of usage or production following a mid-season NFL deal, but obviously the Lloyd/McDaniels relationship is solid. ... Johnny Knox usually needs 8-10 targets in order to catch four passes, because his hands aren't fully functional. But I suppose you have to appreciate the big-play ability and the rapport with Caleb Hanie. Still, I'm not quite ready to bump Knox out of the 40s in the WR ranks, not in a non-bye week. ... Doug Baldwin led all Seahawks in targets in Week 12, and he's likely looking at another significant workload on Thursday night. Sidney Rice was concussed in the Washington loss, so you can't rely on him. ... Apparently Miles Austin has a chance to return this Sunday, but that won't impact my Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson plans.  Lately, every Tony Romo scramble seems to end with a Robinson TD.

Jeremy Maclin and Michael Vick still aren't practicing for Philly, and no one seems optimistic about a Week 13 return, not with such a quick turnaround. ... Dan Orlovsky will get the start for Indy, which is just sad. He's facing the NFL's friendliest pass defense (NE), but he clearly can't be trusted. You want to build a case for his receivers, but then you remember this play. In a must-win week, it's tough to tie yourself to Dan in any way. ... Note the big target and catch totals for Maurice Morris, a back who might prove useful again if Kevin Smith (ankle) is sidelined. ... Oakland fullback Marcel Reece has impressed as a receiver all year (16-202-2), not just in Week 12. With Moore, Ford and McFadden all dinged, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Reece gave us another decent PPR effort. ... Marcedes Lewis had a notably bad day on Sunday, despite being peppered with targets. He dropped an easy touchdown toss from Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback who rarely makes anything look easy.


Photo via Getty Images

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