The perception around kick returns for the Bengals is that Adam Jones is good at it and Brandon Tate is not so good. But, this is a flawed perception. When you look at the actual stats, you see (based on punt returns) that the two players are pretty even.
Looking at the table above you see two players who have relatively similar success when returning kicks this season. What should stand out, and validate what most think about the two, is the difference between their longest returns this year. The truth is, Adam Jones has the potential to break any return and Brandon Tate is more of a reliable returner who isn't going to go too far.
Until last weekend (deciding to return kicks from the back of the end zone to the 10) Tate would field kicks, pick up the easy yards the return team allowed and hold on to the ball. Nothing flashy, but nothing risky.
Adam Jones on the other hand almost always makes the first guy miss. This is one of the most important things to do when returning a kick (other than field position decisions and fumbling). By making the first guy miss, a lane opens and there is room to run. Jones excels at this and often finds space where others may not. If you give him enough opportunities, he is going to reward you.
But, the Bengals don't give him all the opportunities. During a press conference this week, a question asked to Marvin Lewis as to how he picks when Adam Jones will return kicks and punts.
"Darrin (Simmons, special teams coordinator) and I always have discussed it during the week," Lewis responded. "He understands what I'm thinking, and we stay to the plan. Sometimes Adam can be a little winded from a third-down play and it may change from our original thought. Brandon (Tate) got one yesterday that generally Adam would have returned, but Adam was at the point of attack on a third-down play and wasn't quite ready. A returner has to be in the right frame of mind, and be able to handle the whole situation all the time."
That makes sense. The Bengals best option at returning punts also has a very important role in the defense. On top of being winded, opening up a starting cornerback to the potential of injury in the return game is not a good practice for the team. We all know at times Jones won't call for a fair catch when he should.
The ability that Jones has is not lost on Marvin Lewis. He knows the talent he brings to the position and comments about it in a follow up question:
"He's an excellent punt returner," Lewis said of Jones. "He's hard for one person to bring down. He runs strong for a guy of his stature, has great acceleration and vision. He's a handful. Every time someone kicks a ball to him, we know that if we do a good job, we have an opportunity to gain good field position."
It makes sense, but it doesn't stop us from cursing at the TV when we want a big play from a return but instead see minimal results from Tate when instead of number 24 trotting out there we watch number 19 run for an 8 yard gain.