Baltimore Ravens: Jacoby Jones
BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 29-7 win Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium:
What it means: The Ravens (5-2) moved into first place in the AFC North for the first time, jumping ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1). This was the Ravens' fifth win in the past six weeks. The Ravens have outscored three NFC South opponents (Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers) by a combined 115-34.
Near shutout: The Ravens' hopes for their first shutout in five years ended when they gave up a touchdown with 7 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game. Still, the Ravens defense held the Falcons, the fifth-highest scoring team entering this game, to 20 points below their average.
Stock watch: Falling -- Left tackle James Hurst. The undrafted rookie was flagged three times for holding. It's been up and down for Hurst over these three starts. There's a chance that this could be the last time Hurst starts. Eugene Monroe (knee) may return next game.
Jones still struggling: Jacoby Jones' nightmare season continued when he muffed his second punt of the season. Jones was lucky that the Falcons failed to convert it into points (missed 57-yard field goal). It could be time for the Ravens to think about a change at returner.
Game ball: Pass-rusher Pernell McPhee. The game ball could go to anyone on the Ravens' pass rush, but McPhee set the tone in a dominant first half. He forced a fumble on a sack of Matt Ryan in the red zone then sacked Ryan again on third-and-1 to end another drive. McPhee now has four sacks in his past three games. The Ravens finished with five sacks of Ryan.
Suggs' safety: Terrell Suggs capped a strong day for the pass rush by tackling Ryan in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. It was Suggs' first safety of his career and the eighth for the Ravens in their history. The last safety by the Ravens occurred in November 2008, when Jameel McClain recorded it.
Rubbing it in? Up 15 points with 1:54 left, the Ravens not only opted to go for it on fourth-and-9 but they also went for the jugular. Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith on a 39-yard touchdown pass to make it 29-7. Some Falcons looked upset by the play call.
Forsett produces again: Running back Justin Forsett followed his first 100-yard rushing game in five seasons with 95 yards against the Falcons. He broke a 21-yard gain, which marks his seventh run of 20 or more yards this season. Last year, the Ravens had five such runs for the entire season.
What's next: The Ravens go back on the road for the next two games against AFC North teams. Their first trip is next Sunday to the suddenly struggling Cincinnati Bengals.
Elvis Dumervil: He recorded 1.5 sacks on Sunday, raising his season total to five. That's half of the Ravens' sacks this season and is tied for third in the AFC. Since joining the Ravens last season, Dumervil has 14.5 sacks in 21 games.
Red-zone efficiency: The Ravens were 5-for-5 on Sunday inside the 20-yard line, which is where the Ravens have struggled mightily this season. Before Sunday's game, the Ravens had only converted eight of their 20 red-zone trips for touchdowns (40 percent). After their perfect performance in Tampa, the Ravens improved from No. 28 to No. 24 in red-zone efficiency.
Defending deep pass. Even though most came when the game was won, the Ravens gave up five passes of 20 yards or longer. The Ravens have allowed 24 such passes this season, which is tied for third-worst in the NFL. This has been a season-long sore spot for the No. 3 scoring defense. Last season, the Ravens gave up 50 passes of 20 yards or longer, which ranked 19th in the league.
Healthy starters. Add left guard Kelechi Osemele to the list of starters who have missed a game for the Ravens this season. When looking at the starting lineup in the season opener, the Ravens have had five starters (Osemele, running back Bernard Pierce, left tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta and defensive end Chris Canty) miss at least one game. That doesn't include cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was sidelined for three games with a lower back injury, and running back Ray Rice, who was cut after his domestic violence incident.
Marlon Brown is listed as doubtful on the Ravens injury report after missing most of practice this week with a pelvis injury. Brown only has four catches for 46 yards this season and was held without a reception last Sunday.
This could mean increased snaps for wide receiver Jacoby Jones, who has struggled with drops this season. His playing time has been reduced to less than 10 snaps the past two weeks.
The Ravens could also turn to wide receiver Kamar Aiken.
As expected, guard Kelechi Osemele is questionable after not practicing this week. Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn't ruled him out for Sunday. Gino Gradkowski would start at left guard if Osemele is sidelined.
RAVENS INJURY REPORT
OUT: DE Chris Canty (infection in wrist, did not practice Friday), OT Eugene Monroe (knee, did not practice Friday), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee, did not practice Friday).
DOUBTFUL: WR Marlon Brown (pelvis, limited participation Friday).
QUESTIONABLE: G Kelechi Osemele (knee, did not practice Friday).
PROBABLE: SS Matt Elam (shoulder, full participation Friday), LB Daryl Smith (knee, full participation), C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle, full participation).
Jones took a big risk returning a punt from his own 2-yard line two games ago against the Carolina Panthers, and he then turned the ball over last Sunday in Indianapolis, where he misread a punt and allowed it to bounce off him.
"We're going to give him more opportunities to do that because we know he's an elite returner," Rosburg said. "But to be an elite returner, you have to have a ball in your hands. We need to get that fixed, and give him an opportunity to run with it."
It's a tough situation for the Ravens because they know that Jones can be a difference-maker. In the previous two seasons (including playoffs), he has five returns for touchdowns over a 32-game stretch for the Ravens.
Now it's a matter of how much the Ravens trust him as a punt returner. He wasn't on the field for another punt return after that turnover in Indianapolis, but Rosburg said he wasn't benched.
When the Ravens are going to field a punt deep in their own territory, they prefer to use cornerback Lardarius Webb as their returner because he has better hands, which comes into play because of all the weird spins that punters use on knuckleball and rugby kicks to pin teams deep. That's why Webb was on the field for the remaining punts.
Through five games, Jones hasn't made much of a positive impact on punt returns. He has had as many returns (six) and fair catches, a sign teams are trying to kick away from him. His 11.2-yard average ranks 10th in the NFL.
Rosburg said he hasn't seen Jones' struggles affect him.
"Jacoby is a guy that's full of spirit," Rosburg said. "I've heard about people talk about his confidence. I haven't seen any difference in his confidence in the meeting room. He's the same Jacoby that we all love. He's practicing hard. We all want to see him catch the ball. We're on his side."
Even though Jones was a Pro Bowl returner in 2012, he's better on kickoffs, where he can build up more acceleration. During his three seasons with the Ravens, he has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns and one punt for a score. His 29.6-yard average on kickoffs since 2012 ranks second in the NFL.
The Ravens re-signed Jones in the offseason to a four-year, $12 million contract that included $4.5 million guaranteed. He hasn't been much of a factor as a receiver, dropping four passes (which is tied for fourth-most in the NFL).
There are not many options for the Ravens at punt returner. Webb isn't at full strength, Asa Jackson is injured, Michael Campanaro is inexperienced and Deonte Thompson is on the practice squad and hasn't fielded a punt in a regular-season game.
The Ravens, though, don't sound like a team that is close to giving up on Jones.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in him," Rosburg said. "I look forward to the next time he's got his hands on the ball. We've got to get him to catch it, and block well and give him an opportunity to do what he does best."
1. The Ravens are going to give up at least two touchdown passes to Andrew Luck: The Ravens have the 24th-ranked pass defense, which is not what you want to have when facing the NFL's hottest quarterback. Luck has thrown 11 touchdown passes in his past three games. The Colts' offensive line is suspect, but the Ravens' defensive backs are a bigger question mark. Quarterbacks are completing nearly 80 percent of their passes when throwing against cornerback Asa Jackson and safeties Matt Elam and Darian Stewart.
3. Owen Daniels is going to score a touchdown: Daniels has been quiet recently after catching two touchdown passes in Week 2. He has only had five catches the past two games. But four of the seven touchdown passes allowed by the Colts have been scored by opposing tight ends. Denver's Julius Thomas, Philadelphia's Zach Ertz and Tennessee's Delanie Walker have each produced at least 84 yards receiving against Indianapolis as well. In terms of fantasy football, the Colts have allowed the second-most points to tight ends in the NFL (only the Jaguars are worse).
How did my predictions fare last week?
Prediction: Panthers won't score a touchdown. Result: Carolina got into the end zone once, on a blown coverage by safety Darian Stewart.
Prediction: Terrell Suggs will get his first sack of the season. Result: Suggs got a half sack.
Prediction: Torrey Smith won't get on track. Result: Smith caught two passes for 53 yards and one touchdown.
@jamisonhensley can Kubiak's steady play calling change the ravens road woes?— Chris Sadowski (@chris_sadowski) October 2, 2014
@jamisonhensley: Chris, two keys for an offense to win on the road is running the ball and making quick decisions in the passing game. And Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak stresses both in his system. An offense that can successfully move the ball on the ground will control the clock and set the tempo for the game. It can take a crowd out of a game. The other part is getting rid of the ball quickly, because the offensive line is at such a disadvantage in pass protection on the road. The crowd noise will lead to silent counts, and pass-rushers are usually one step ahead of the blockers. So, a quarterback can stand in the pocket and make a long read progression (like Joe Flacco did in Jim Caldwell's offense last year) because it will end in a sack. That is why I feel Kubiak's offense is more conducive to win on the road.
@jamisonhensley Why haven't we seen JJ or Torrey Smith as much??— Misagh Dorost (@misagh19) October 2, 2014
@jamisonhensley: The Ravens have stressed more of a short passing game in the first month of the season, which means most of Flacco's targets have gone to Steve Smith, tight ends (Dennis Pitta before he got injured and Owen Daniels) and running back Justin Forsett. Those four players account for 71 of Flacco's 97 completions. The Ravens have tried to get Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones more involved. Torrey Smith's eight catches don't look as bad when you factor that he has drawn a league-high five pass interference penalties. The same goes with Jones, who has more dropped passes (four) than catches (three) this season. Torrey Smith and Jones are still part of this offense.
@jamisonhensley When will Elam get to his natural SS position so he can be most effective?— Sir Dee (@SirDee69) October 2, 2014
@jamisonhensley: Matt Elam has played closer to the line more this season than last year. The Ravens have been moving him to nickel back in passing situations because they lack depth at cornerback. Once Lardarius Webb returns to form, Elam will go back to playing safety the entire game. The problem is both starters back there, Elam and Darian Stewart, are strong safeties. This will change when either Will Hill or Terrence Brooks can push for a starting job. Because both of them are free safeties, Elam would be able to focus on playing strong safety.
@jamisonhensley what is really going on with Arthur Brown?— Mario Halteh (@therealmario21) October 2, 2014
@jamisonhensley: Arthur Brown is fast and athletic, but he doesn't have great strength yet. There were too many times in the preseason where guards got to Brown and he couldn't shed blocks. Brown found a niche last season when he played on passing downs. He has good coverage skills and showed quickness when blitzing. But C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith are both every-down linebackers, so that negates the need for Brown. That is why he has been inactive all season. The Ravens moved up in the second round a year ago to get Brown, so he has obviously been a disappointment. But the slower-than-anticipated development of such draft picks as Jimmy Smith and Paul Kruger proves it's too early to label Brown a bust.
@jamisonhensley Will Harbaugh and Co. give Jacoby one more shot as the #3 WR or will Marlon Brown assume that position early vs Indy?— Kenny (@bakerspazing) October 2, 2014
@jamisonhensley: The Ravens aren't going to bench Jacoby Jones entirely, but they're not going to play him 20-some snaps if he continues to drop the ball. Jones is going to have to earn the confidence of the coaching staff in practice before he gets a chance to be the No. 3 receiver again. Brown caught all three passes thrown to him last Sunday, so he deserves to be the No. 3 at this point. But Marlon Brown isn't that big-play threat like Jones. I thought Jones was primed for a good season because he was making a lot of those short to intermediate catches during training camp. There will be a time this season when Jones makes an impact at receiver for the Ravens..
Jones has been surpassed by Marlon Brown as the team's No. 3 wide receiver, based on the snap counts. It's been a tough start to the season for Jones, who has more drops (four) than catches (three). In fact, he's dropped half of the passes thrown his way, including an easy throw that bounced off his hands Sunday.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Jones catches passes during practice, and he is working hard at improving by catching passes after practice every day.
"Sometimes I think he’s pressing. I really do," Harbaugh said. "Jacoby has a lot of pride, and he’s made big, big plays in this league before, and he wants to pick up where he left off. [That] hasn’t happened for him, but the thing he has to know -- just like Torrey [Smith], just like anybody -- is that the key is persistence. You just keep hammering, and you don’t get down on yourself and focus on the fundamentals and the details, and it’ll work out.”
Jones has never been considered a reliable pass catcher, which is why he's never developed beyond a No. 3 target. But the Ravens aren't going to give up on Jones because he has a history of being a playmaker.
He made two of the biggest and most memorable catches for the Ravens during their Super Bowl championship run a couple of seasons ago. His 70-yard touchdown catch in Denver, also known as the Mile High Miracle, propelled the Ravens' to an AFC divisional playoff win. His 56-yard touchdown grab near the end of the first half was one of the key plays in the Ravens' Super Bowl triumph.
At this point, the Ravens have to go with Brown until Jones breaks out of his funk. Brown played 31 offensive snaps on Sunday, and Jones received only six.
While he doesn't have the same explosiveness as Jones, Brown caught all three passes thrown in his direction on Sunday for 31 yards. Two of Brown's receptions converted third downs.
"[He] did a good job, made a couple plays -- third-down conversions that were very important," Harbaugh said of Brown. "[He is a] big target, gets off press really well and blocks, and he did a good job in special teams. He played well."
- Rookie seventh-round pick Michael Campanaro is making a convincing argument that he belongs on the team. He looked like the best receiver on the field, and he continued to make plays when he was a member of the scout team going against the first-team defense. Campanaro doesn't look like a rookie when he is running routes.
- In one of the lighter moments of camp, reserve safety Omar Brown was complimented by a fan for keeping up with Torrey Smith on a deep route. The only problem was the fan called him Chykie Brown. "I'm not Chykie," Omar Brown responded with both arms outstretched. "I'm Omar."
- As Deonte Thompson had one of his better days catching the ball, another wide receiver fighting for a job did not. LaQuan Williams had trouble holding on to passes, which could push him closer to the "long shot" category.
- It was a big day for athletic interceptions. Rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks, who is working at nickelback with the first-team defense, tipped an interception to himself. Undrafted rookie Tremain Jacobs picked off a pass by jumping a route. And cornerback Marrio Norman went up high to pull down a sailing pass from Tyrod Taylor.
- It was fitting how wide receiver Jacoby Jones celebrated one of the final drills of training camp. Practicing the kneel down at the end of a game, Jones did exactly what Ray Lewis did in the linebacker's final home game. Standing five yards behind Flacco, Jones broke into Lewis' signature squirrel dance.
- Schedule: The Ravens have a walk-through Friday before playing their second preseason game at Dallas on Saturday.
- Injury wire: The Ravens decided to "rest" Owen Daniels' legs, and it's undecided whether the tight end will play in Saturday's preseason game. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his 14th straight practice. He last practiced July 25. ... CB Asa Jackson (ankle) was sidelined for his fourth straight practice. ... G Will Rackley (head) remains out ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list. ... DEs Brent Urban (torn ACL) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) are out for the season.
- This practice resembled many of the Ravens' games last season, when quarterback Joe Flacco was under constant pressure. Some of it had to do with starting guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele getting the day off. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has to be looking forward to the preseason, so he will get to face someone other than Terrell Suggs, who has had his number in camp.
- Cornerback Chykie Brown has been the lightening rod of this year's camp. After struggling mightily in the first week of camp, Brown drew headlines for a different reason Saturday. He was thrown out of practice briefly after kicking a ball, and he returned in enough time to trade swings with wide receiver Steve Smith.
- Jacoby Jones had his best day of what has been an uneventful camp. He might have caught more passes Saturday than in the previous eight practices combined. With Marlon Brown struggling to catch the ball, Jones needs to assert himself as the No. 3 wide receiver.
- Kamar Aiken, who has been released by three teams (Buffalo, Chicago and New England) in his career, continues to stand out in what has become an interesting battle for the last few wide receiver spots. He caught two passes in the back of the end zone in a red zone drill, showing off his strong hands again.
- On a day when emotions ran high, guard Ryan Jensen and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore got into a fight. It didn't escalate, but Jensen did end up on his back.
- Along with the starting guards, tight end Owen Daniels and linebacker Pernell McPhee all got the day off. Jensen and A.Q. Shipley filled in at guard with the first-team offense.
- Schedule: The Ravens have a 1 p.m. ET practice Sunday.
- Injury wire: WR Michael Campanaro bruised his ribs after falling on the ball during practice. ... CB Lardarius Webb (back) missed his seventh straight practice. He will be sidelined for at least the first two games. ... ILB Daryl Smith (groin) was sidelined for a fourth consecutive day. ... DT Timmy Jernigan (back spasms) should return soon, according to coach John Harbaugh. ... G Will Rackley (head) also didn't practice. ... NT Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list.
Let's continue the countdown ...
No. 15: Jacoby Jones
Position: Wide receiver-returner
Total points: 124.
Highest ranking: No. 3. Lowest ranking: Not ranked.
Where Jones should be ranked: Even though the Ravens will never get consistent production out of Jones as a receiver, he is the biggest game-changer on the team. When the ball was in his hands -- as a returner or receiver -- he impacted more games than any other Raven over the past two years. If it was a big win, Jones usually had a hand in it. That's why I had Jones at No. 10 on my rankings.
File this away: In two seasons with the Ravens, Jones has scored 10 touchdowns in 28 games. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.
What the Ravens are saying about Jones: "He's a quality receiver. He's a special teams player, but he's also a guy that can do the things that you need to do to move the chains when you need to move them. It's something that he's probably grown into over the last three or four years as a football player. Without question, we believe his best football is in front of him." -- coach John Harbaugh
Here is the panel of voters: Morgan Adsit (WBFF-TV), Clifton Brown (Comcast SportsNet Baltimore), Jerry Coleman (105.7 The Fan), Bruce Cunnningham (WBFF-TV), Steve Davis (105.7 The Fan), John Eisenberg (Baltimore Ravens website), Pete Gilbert (WBAL-TV), David Ginsburg (Associated Press), Brent Harris (Comcast SportsNet Baltimore), Brett Hollander (WBAL Radio), Luke Jones (WNST Radio), Joe Platania (the Press Box), Gerry Sandusky (WBAL-TV), Mark Viviano (WJZ-TV), Aaron Wilson (Baltimore Sun), Matt Zenitz (Carroll County Times), Jeff Zrebiec (Baltimore Sun) and Jamison Hensley (ESPN.com).
"I need to get that DNA test," said Jones, who played under Kubiak from 2007 to 2011 in Houston. "I'm going to steal his coffee and swab the cup and figure it out. I have to make sure. I hope my mother doesn't see this. She'll kill me.”
Whether Jones' familiarity with Kubiak's system will translate into production as a receiver is the more pertinent question.
In five seasons in Kubiak's offense, Jones only caught more than 31 passes in a season once. While he's been a playmaker for the Ravens, he still only has a combined 67 catches in two seasons.
"[I'm] trying to be one of the best receivers in the league," Jones said. "[I'm going to] try and play my role when they call my number, to show [I can] make that play. We fell short last year not going to the playoffs, and you beat yourself up in the offseason like, 'What did I do wrong? What did I do right?' You look for those types of small things and then build off them."
Jones made two of the biggest and most memorable catches for the Ravens during their Super Bowl championship run a couple of seasons ago. His 70-yard touchdown catch in Denver, also known as the Mile High Miracle, propelled the Ravens' to an AFC divisional playoff win. His 56-yard touchdown grab near the end of the first half was one of the key plays in the Ravens' Super Bowl triumph.
But stretching the field hasn't been a staple of Kubiak's offenses in Denver. In five seasons with the Texans, Jones had 10 catches on passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. In two seasons with the Ravens, he had eight receptions on such passes.
Jones' speed makes him a viable downfield threat. His inconsistent hands doesn't make him a dependable target on the quick-hitting passes.
Jones cautioned everyone not to read too much into the perception that Kubiak doesn't throw deep passes.
"Don't sleep on that, but the way he is, he's going to take what you give us," Jones said. "If you're going to sit there and play that all game -- you're going to give it to us -- why not? Just chip away and throw it down the field. It's football. It's a chess match."
Jones, who re-signed with the Ravens this offseason, will make an impact as a returner. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.
Even though Jones has reunited with Kubiak, it could be more difficult for him to carve out a major niche as a wide receiver.
"The Ravens re-signed their key free agents and made the right choice at tackle in letting Michael Oher test the market," Sando wrote. "This is looking like a low-key offseason for Baltimore."
The Ravens did what they had to do in terms of retaining their key free agents such as offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta, inside linebacker Daryl Smith and returner Jacoby Jones. They brought in a veteran wide receiver in Steve Smith, who can make an impact in clutch situations.
The one player the Ravens hated to lose was nickelback Corey Graham, but it would have been a mistake for Baltimore to match a contract that averages $4 million per season. The Ravens would've liked to upgrade more at center if there was a better free-agent market for that position. That forced them to trade for Jeremy Zuttah, who is better than Gino Gradkowski and is a good fit in the Ravens' zone-blocking scheme.
The Ravens still have question marks at free safety and right tackle. If the Ravens had to play today, they would go with Darian Stewart at free safety and Rick Wagner at right tackle. Stewart isn't a rangy defensive back, and Wagner doesn't have much experience. Both would fill a void, but they're not necessarily the solutions for those positions.
How did the rest of the AFC North teams grade out? The Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all got a grade of C.
"I'm in the [Giants] facility walking around and I think I came to my senses really that this is probably the only place that will let me be myself," Jones said Thursday.
"I told the driver, head toward Newark. Take me to the airport," Jones said. "I told my agent that I knew I was coming home."
Jones signed a four-year, $12 million deal that includes $4.5 million guaranteed. How much less was the Ravens' offer compared the one from the Giants?
"I don't know," Jones said with a smile. "I'm not good at math."
One incentive to stay was the addition of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. Kubiak was Jones' head coach for five seasons (2007-11) when both were with the Houston Texans.
Jones referred to Kubiak as his "biological father" because he never knew his own father. He remembered a conversation during his time in Houston when Kubiak sat him down after he was a self-described "knucklehead."
"He told me when you slow down and mature, you're going to have a chance to make a lot of money," Jones said.
Jones was cut by the Texans in May 2012 after he mishandled a punt that led to Houston's playoff loss at Baltimore. He joined the Ravens and redefined himself as one of the top playmakers in the league.
In two seasons, Jones has scored 10 touchdowns in 28 games. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.
Coach John Harbaugh insisted that the Ravens brought back Jones to be more than a returner, even though he has caught 67 passes in two seasons in Baltimore.
"He's also a quality receiver," Harbaugh said. "He's a special-teams player, but he's also a guy that can do the things that you need to do to move the chains when you need to move them. It's something that he's probably grown into over the last three or four years as a football player. Without question, we believe his best football is in front of him."
With both of these moves happening within hours of each other, it reminded me how Jones and Graham were linked on the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run. Graham, one of the Ravens' top special teams players, was on the field to block on every one of Jones' four return touchdowns that season. That included a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which set a Super Bowl record.
In case you missed it, here is my post on why keeping Jones was so critical and how losing Graham creates another hole in the secondary.
To keep up to date with all of the news and analysis on the Ravens, follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
But, if the Ravens were going to re-sign another one of their players after tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, it had to be wide receiver-returner Jacoby Jones, who reached a four-year, $12 million deal while visiting the New York Giants on Wednesday.
Jacoby Jones is a game-changer. When the ball was in his hands, he impacted more games than any other Raven over the past two years. If it was a big win, Jones usually had a hand in it.
In the 2012 regular season, his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped the Ravens beat the Cowboys and his 63-yard punt return for a touchdown was the Ravens' only touchdown in a win at the Steelers. The Ravens wouldn't have won the Super Bowl that season if not for Jones' Mile High Miracle in the AFC divisional playoff game and his two touchdowns (including the best spin move in Super Bowl history) in New Orleans.
During the Ravens' four-game win streak in 2013, he made an impact each victory: a 66-yard touchdown catch against the Jets; 176 total yards against the Steelers; a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Vikings; and six catches for 80 yards including a third-down conversion on the game-winning drive at the Lions.
Jones isn't consistent, but he's clutch. The Ravens could've signed another returner like Devin Hester and Trindon Holliday. Right now, Jones is better than both of them. Jones' five kickoff returns for touchdowns since 2009 are tied with Percy Harvin for the most in the NFL (regular season and playoffs), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Based on Jones' contract (which is similar to Dexter McCluster's three-year, $12 million deal), the Ravens aren't going to make the same mistake of going into the season thinking Jones is a No. 2 wide receiver. Once free agency and the draft are over, Jones could be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, which is exactly what he is. Line him outside a dozen times and let him go deep.
There will be times when Jones will frustrate the Ravens, and the team knows that. Jones failed his conditioning test at last year's training camp after spending an offseason on Dancing With The Stars. He was involved in a brawl on a party bus last September and was hurt when he was hit over the head by a stripper wielding a champagne bottle.
The bottom line is the Ravens are a better team with Jones than without him. His highlight reel proves it.