Nov 2, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (24) runs the ball in the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati defeated Jacksonville 33-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Bengals cornerback Adam Jones has been long regarded by many fans as the team’s best option as a returner. But despite Jones’ talent for return work, the Bengals have stuck by Brandon Tate for several years. This year began the same with Brandon Tate being responsible for much of the team’s returns. But over the past four games, the Bengals have seemed to change course and have made Adam Jones the team’s primary returner.
Since the Panthers game in Week 6, Adam Jones has returned ten kicks and seven punts compared to Tate’s three kick returns and three punt returns. Over this four game span, the Bengals emphasis on Jones in the return game has really paid off. Jones had his 97-yard kickoff return against the Panthers, which set up a three-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill. The touchdown helped the Bengals tie the game at 31-31 late in the fourth quarter; clearly a vital play for the Bengals who eventually tied the Panthers in overtime. Jones also had a 31-yard punt return against the Jaguars at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The return set up an A.J. Green touchdown catch just two plays later, and effectively put the game out of reach.
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All of Jones’ kick returns on the year have come within the past four games. They have gone for a total of 328 yards, which has given Jones the NFL lead in kick return average (32.8 yards/return). Jones’ seven punt returns (71 yards) have accounted for about half of his punt returns on the year. He also leads the NFL in punt return average at 15.8 yards/return. These two facts are likely the most substantial reasons for the team’s transition at the position lately. Jones’ returns have clearly been impressive, but have also been timely, coming up big for this team at key moments when they needed a boost.
Meanwhile, Brandon Tate’s return work has been mostly unimpressive. Over the past four games, Tate has returned just three kicks and three punts for 69 and 15 total yards respectively. He ranks nowhere near the top in punt return average and is 20th in the NFL in kick return average at 21.4 yards/return.
This transition from Tate to Jones was likely aided by A.J. Green’s toe injury. Much like last year when the Bengals’ secondary suffered several injuries and Adam Jones was taken off return work to focus on defense, the same has happened this year with Brandon Tate. It’s worked out great for the Bengals thus far.
“I don’t really see anybody’s role changing. We’re just going to be using both. They both have proven that they can do it.”
Despite the contention that they (the Bengals) will stick with their plan of using both returners, it’s been the best choice to largely move past the Brandon Tate safety net and to begin inspiring the return unit by utilizing the ever-dangerous Adam Jones; special teams coach Darrin Simmons supported
earlier this year. Adam Jones has proven he can come up with timely returns and really impact games with a single play. The Bengals must continue to use Jones in this role. With Leon Hall potentially missing the game this week with a concussion, Jones may be called into an increased defensive role like last year. Hopefully it doesn’t deter the Bengals from utilizing Jones the way they have recently.