Friday, December 26, 2014

A big weekend for returns?

Millions of shoppers will head to stores this weekend for the sole purpose of returns. On Sunday, the Steelers kick-coverage units will have their hands full trying to prevent returns.

This Sunday at Heinz Field, in the final game of the regular season, the Steelers face the NFL's No. 1 kickoff returner, Adam Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones leads the NFL with an impressive 33.2 yards per kickoff-return average on 22 returns. He also ranks third in the NFL with an 11.9 yard average on 22 punt returns, including a 47-yarder.

Jones, who was formerly known as "Pacman" Jones, was the sixth overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft; yes, that long ago, almost 10 years. Much of his pro career has been marked by trouble and "off the field" problems. He was actually out of the NFL in 2009. Over the past couple years, however, he appears to have found a home in Cincinnati.

Jones had a big game last Monday night against the Broncos in the rain at Cincinnati. He returned three kickoffs, including one for an 80-yard return. He returned two punts, including one for 21 yards. And he intercepted an errant Peyton Manning pass and returned it for 11 yards.

Jones's three kickoffs, two punts and one interception produced 168 total return yards.

Cincinnati's other punt returner is Brandon Tate, and he can be effective, too. On Monday night against Denver, Tate returned one punt for 49 yards.

The last couple weeks, the Steelers effectively contained two of the league's top kick returners, Devin Hester of the Atlanta Falcons and Knile Davis of the Kansas City Chiefs. This Sunday, once again, the Steelers' kick-coverage units will have be on top of their game.

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