Will Adam Jones Get More Return Work?


The Bengals should really consider giving Adam Jones more work as a returner. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After allowing a touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen, the Bengals found themselves down 31-24 with just under five minutes left in the game. In response to this, the Bengals chose to put Adam Jones back deep over Brandon Tate for the ensuing kick return. Clearly they realized they needed a big play to get back into the game, and hence turned to Jones.

It’s an interesting decision which says so much about this team outside of the returning decision itself. But for a moment, let’s stick to this decision.

Adam Jones had lobbied for a kick return opportunity this week telling as much to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"“I have been doing more in practice so I said, ‘Darrin let me get back there.’ He said, ‘All right, just be smart with the ball.’ It all worked out for the good. I had helluva blocks out there. I take my hat off to those guys. I hit it running and they opened up for me, it’s pretty good. It’s always good if you can get a clean read and run up on the kicker.”"

When the Bengals chose to give Jones the opportunity on Sunday, he responded in a big way. The blocking set up nicely, something that couldn’t have surprised special teams coach Darrin Simmons who acknowledged that blockers are often inspired by returners.

"“Being able to maintain the continuity of those three specialists. Our core guys feed off what the specialists do. The better Kevin punts, the better they cover. The better Mike kicks off, the better we’ll cover. They feel like they have a chance. It’s no different than it is with Brandon Tate or Adam Jones back deep as a returner. The better they return – it’s a fact – they’ll block better. It’s a certain level of excitement for these guys. We have a good group of core guys. Hard-working, tough-minded guys. I think it’s led by Cedric and Vinny. To a certain degree, that’s been passed down.”"

So is it possible the blockers were just a little more pumped up knowing Adam Jones and his dynamic return skills were back there? Did it signal a chance to make a play knowing Jones was coming out with the ball; he hasn’t had a fair catch since 2006. Whatever it was, Jones saw his blocks well, as he so often does, hit the hole, made a couple of jukes to burn three or four would-be tacklers and took off. Jones was at the doorstep of the endzone before finally being tripped up at the three-yard-line.

It was yet another timely and dynamic return from a player who has a long history of making these types of plays? After seeing yet another significant return from the reserve cornerback, you couldn’t help but question why he isn’t returning more kicks and punts.

After another disappointing game on Sunday, the Bengals have to be exploring what they can do to improve going forward. Will they consider giving more returns to Jones going forward?

“Do we want more big plays? Absolutely, we want more explosive plays.  I want other coaches to fear us when the play us. I’ve been on the other part of that when they didn’t fear us. When they were laughing. I want the other teams to fear who we put back there.”

During the preseason, Darrin Simmons spoke about wanting more “explosive” plays from his return unit. He made the aforementioned statement about how blockers respond to their returner. He spoke about wanting opposing teams to fear the Bengals when facing a return. After seeing his timely 45-yard punt return against the Ravens, his 47-yard punt return against the Patriots, and his crucial 97-yard kick return against the Panthers, is there really any debate over whether Jones or Tate is the more dangerous, the more inspiring, or more intimidating?

Jones is the guy who can swing momentum in an instant. He has the attitude to “punch” the opposing team “in the mouth” even when the Bengals are looking vulnerable. He can change a game in a flash with his talent and “never back down” attitude.

It’s this kind of attitude the Bengals need because they’re a team that struggles when “the lights come on.” Marvin Lewis and Co. like to play it safe, relentlessly choosing the conventional path during games. These choices can lead to “complacency” and a lack of “fire” in a team as predictability so often does.  Striking the right balance between an even-keel attitude and a fierce and aggressive mindset can be vital in football.

While Marvin Lewis likes to keep an even-keel attitude, there are serious questions regarding whether he can lead his team through adversity by inspiring his team to battle through it while keeping their focus.  Adam Jones is the type of player who can provide a spark and inspire his teammates with a single play.  But utilizing him means the Bengals will have to “take a chance” and change, something they rarely do.

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There are some “hurdles” between the Bengals and taking this “chance”. First is the loyalty the Bengals show to players. Despite Jones’ superior compentency as a returner, the team relentlessly shows loyalty to Tate.  They have supported and defended Tate as the team’s returner several times and have continued doing so this year.

Second, and as stated before, the Bengals typically use the more standard approach to games and “play it safe.” Only until recently has the offense began “taking chances” and gotten innovative under Hue Jackson’s leadership.  It’s taken the offense to another level at times and given them a spark when necessary. Darrin Simmons and Marvin Lewis aren’t this creative nor this bold, so going away from the norm may prove difficult.

Finally, and maybe the most impeding obstacle, the Bengals’ secondary will need to rely less on Jones’ contributions. Last year when the secondary suffered injuries, the Bengals took Jones off returning duties to have him focus on defense. The Bengals have yet to use either Dre Kirkpatrick or Darqueze Dennard substantially on defense, so it remains to be seen how confident Paul Guenther is when using either of these two in lieu of Jones.

If the Bengals are to take the next step towards being elite, they will need to make some changes and get out of their “comfort zone.”  With no wins in the playoffs despite three consecutive appearances, maybe it’s time for the Bengals to start taking some “chances,” the way Jones does with so many of his returns.