BY DAN BEGNOCHE
After a season’s worth of solid kick coverage, the group laid an egg against the Houston Texans last week, allowing returner Danieal Manning to gain more than 200 yards on just three returns, nearly notching the first return touchdown against the team all season. (photo: BaltimoreRavens.com)
Now, the crew gets a shot at Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones, who lead the league in kick return yards and has three special teams touchdowns to his name this season. New England special teams captain Matthew Slater said earlier this week that his group is well aware of Jones’s ability, and they know they can’t be as sloppy as they were a week ago.
“We’ve put that behind us,” Slater told reporters Thursday. “Once we got in here and watched the tape, we understand we didn’t perform the way we wanted to. There’s no time to hang our head now going against arguably the best returner in the league after the year he had this year and a good special teams unit all around.”
The matchup between the two units should be entertaining, as New England’s squad finished the regular season ranked third in both kickoff and punt return coverage. Jones averaged 31 yards on kickoffs this year, while the Pats held returners to just over 20. New England didn't get a look at Jones on kickoffs in their first meeting with the Ravens, as he was relegated to only punt returns.
Slater said Thursday, however, that the group has vigorously prepared for him this week — at least as much you can prepare for someone with Jones’s unique ability.
“The guys have been working hard all week to kind of give us a look at him," Jones said. "But I think a guy like that, he’s so unique that it’s hard to really know what it’s going to be like until we get in the game … I don’t really think there’s a returner in the league with his physical presence because he’s such a big guy and the speed that he has. It’s tough to simulate but hopefully we’re getting a good look at it in practice and we’ll be ready on Sunday.”
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