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Marshon Lattimore matchup against Julio Jones could be crucial one for New Orleans Saints against Falcons

'I've got to be on my game'

2018 Season Saints 21 - Browns 18 Saints 1-1 in 2018 Regular Season New Orleans Saints 2018 Season Michael C. Hebert

It's not as if there's a long history between the combatants.

Certainly, not nearly as long as their teams, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, have been knocking helmets – which will happen for the 98th time Sunday, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

But there's an allure to the matchup of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore and Falcons receiver Julio Jones – the budding, premier cornerback who was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (Lattimore) against the established, arguably-best-in-the-business-at-his-position receiver who's a three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler.

Of the myriad moving parts in any NFL game, and in Sunday's game specifically, the times when the former first-round draft picks (Lattimore, No. 11 overall in 2017 and Jones, No. 6 overall in '11) line up across from one another will be times worth bookmarking.

In two games against Lattimore and the Saints last season, Jones had five catches (on 11 targets) for 98 yards in a victory, and seven catches (on 11 targets) for 149 yards in a loss.

Clearly, Lattimore understands the potential ramifications if he's not sharp.

"He can do everything," Lattimore said of Jones, who didn't practice Wednesday due to a calf injury. "So I've got to be on my game. There's no special way to put anything – I've got to be on my game. He's a No. 1 receiver in the league, I feel like one of the top three in the league. So I've got to be on my game."

But then, effectively contesting receivers like Jones is one of the reasons that the Saints drafted Lattimore, who had a team-leading five interceptions and 18 passes defensed last year, including an interception in each game against Atlanta and five passes defensed.

"He's great, so I've got to come out and be great and I've got to go at him," Lattimore said. "There's nothing to it other than that, just go out there and compete and try to win the battle."

Falcons Coach Dan Quinn said that Jones' effectiveness Sunday is a product of his work during the week.

"I would say probably the thing that no one really gets to recognize, but I certainly do, is the way that he practices," Quinn said. "It makes the other players around him better. It makes the defensive backs better because he treats them like game reps where he finishes after the catch for 70 yards. He treats every one that he's just going to battle to get ready.

"So I really respect that part of his game. You see the in-game product – the talent and the toughness and I guess the range. What I see is the stuff during the week that gets them ready. Probably the one physical attribute that he has that a lot of other people don't, he can be in the air and off balance and still land on his feet to extend the play.

"So sometimes you might see a guy go up for a catch, and he secures the catch and on the way down it was a fantastic catch, but he falls to the ground and that was the end of the play. With him, oftentimes he'll go up for the catch and then even if his body is in a funky angle, he'll be able to land on one foot or two feet and extend the play. So quite a few of his explosive plays are the extension going up for a ball. There's not a stat on that but it does make him unique that where most guys may have to jump and dive for something, where he stays on his feet a good bit of the time."

Lattimore said that Jones is the rare receiver who is comfortable with every route.

"Some people are good with deep balls, (some are good with) short routes, and whatever," Lattimore said. "But he can do it all. I've got to be on my game."

Game on.

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