The Falcons will play an important game Sunday afternoon. I can’t tell you why it’s important; it just is. Stop asking questions. They will need to contend with speedy Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately Jackson isn’t the only speedster on the Ravens roster worth worrying about. Punt returner Cyrus Jones has played solid football over the last two months.
Jones had a fantastic career at Alabama before becoming a Patriots second round pick in 2016. He fumbled five times as a rookie and was injured in 2017. He bounced between the Patriots and Ravens early this year before securing the Ravens punt returner role in October. Jones had his best game as a professional last week, returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown, which earned him an AFC Special Team Player of the Week designation.
Here’s what Dan Quinn had to say about Jones (credit to D. Orlando Ledbetter for the quote):
“It’s no surprise for us to see the return game has been on point, that’s always been a calling card for them,” Quinn said. “I think it was Cyrus (Jones) that had one (Sunday) for a long one. So, scoring on defense, punt return to go, that’s sounding like vintage Ravens football through (John) Harbaugh’s time and certainly beyond.”
In other words, he’s undoubtedly on their radar. Why? Well, Jones ranks 3rd in punt return yardage (228 yards) and 4th in yards/return average (12.7 yards/return). His yards/return is obviously buoyed by the big return against the Raiders. But he’s a threat, and the Falcons know it.
The Falcons have limited opponents to an average of 7.3 yards/punt return this season. That’s the NFL’s 7th lowest punt return average. So they’ve been pretty solid limiting return yardage, but that’s not where this story ends. What about fair catches? The Falcons have been decidedly mediocre in that regard in that they’ve only forced a 17th best 11 fair catches in 2018. That’s not entirely punter Matt Bosher’s fault, but he certainly ought to shoulder some of the blame.
The Falcons’ (essentially Bosher’s) net punting average of 38 yards is abysmal, ranking 31st. (Meanwhile the Chargers’ net punting average of 37.8 yards ranks 32nd.) Bosher’s career average net yards per punt is 41.2, and he’s only averaged less than 40 net yards per punt once previously (during his rookie year). I’ll credit Bosher for putting 40 percent of his punts inside the 20, which is slightly higher than his career average (39.6 percent), but there appears to be empirical evidence that his oomph (technical term) is down this year.
So how do the Falcons handle Jones on Sunday? One word: execute. If Bosher’s leg just ain’t what it used to be, then the rest of the punt unit needs to pick up his slack. If you blow your assignment or commit a foolish penalty, then you’re essentially teeing it up for Jones. It’s a seemingly simple solution, isn’t it? Do or do not, there is no try, as Yoda would say.