Some people criticized the Bengals' lack of urgency in addressing the wide receiver position this offseason. In the spring and summer months, they only went after two players at the position. One was Denarius Moore, who was released before final cuts even ensued, and the other was a seventh round draft pick in Mario Alford.
The Bengals' reasoning was their belief in the offense's resurgence coinciding with the return of injured players Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert. So far, their roll of the dice has proven to be fortuitous, as they've combined for five touchdown receptions through the first three games. Jones himself has two, along with nine catches, 161 yards and a 17.9 yards-per-catch average.
It's still early, but the offense is looking promising with his return--especially with Andy Dalton off to the best start of his five-year career. The best news is that Jones has steadily improved through the first three games, increasing his receiving yards and/or catches each week. Because of these numbers, he's had an obvious impact on the offense through the month of September upon his return. Let's have a look how this impact has played out.
Direct Plays Made By Jones:
Let's rewind back to Week 2 against the Chargers. In this play, Jones splits the defense for a 45-yard score. Dalton sails a perfect pass to the streaking Jones who has a couple of steps on Brandon Flowers.
This play typifies the nightmares defenses have in guarding this year's version of the Bengals' offense. Note the doubling of Eifert on the lower left initially, with the linebacker and safety peeling off to then double-team A.J. Green and even a shifting over of Manti Te'o to Giovani Bernard. Jones is the beneficiary of the confusion of the defense with a one-on-one matchup with Flowers and Jones beats him off the line. He uses his long speed to haul in a 45-yard touchdown--a type of play noticeably absent last season.
In Week 3 against the Ravens, late in the fourth quarter, Jones came up huge on what would become the game-winning drive. Jones beat Kyle Arrington and came down with an amazing catch.
Aside from again benefiting from confusion of the defense and their paying attention to other weapons and a good throw by Dalton, this play is mostly about Jones. He beats Arrington's jam at the the line, gets a step on him and comes down with an acrobatic one-handed catch. How much were these types of plays missed down the stretch last season, particularly against the Colts in the Wild Card game? This catch set up the game-winning touchdown pass to Green.
Here's another play against the Ravens displaying Jones' skills. In the second quarter, Dalton saw Jones hit the seam and threw a dart for a touchdown to put the Bengals up two touchdowns.
This play negated any thought of Jones being simply a one-trick pony. Aside from having long speed, he can run reverses effectively and make some tough catches. Check out the lone deep safety in the middle of the field who had to make the ridiculously tough choice of cheating toward Green or Jones. Because of the higher respect level for Green, he shaded that way, and even with a good, full break on the ball, he couldn't get the ball away from Jones who made a good catch in traffic.
How Jones Opens Things Up For Others:
Let's first look at a couple of plays to Green against the Ravens. On No. 18's huge 80-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Jones and Green ran routes very near each other.
Baltimore wisely bracketed the two wideouts with three defenders, but it still didn't work for them. Why? Aside from poor tackling after the catch, the Ravens also had two safeties over there. Jimmy Smith blanketed Jones, as they likely thought a deep ball down the sideline was coming, and Smith figured he'd probably have better help than he received. Because of the high attention paid to Jones, Green was able to find the soft spot between two safeties and make a huge play.
Let's go now to Green's game-winning touchdown. After a huge day already, the Pro Bowl receiver was able to cap the day with another touchdown. Keep in mind this was one play after Jones had the amazing one-hand snag.
The defense had to be on high alert for Jones, who had just burned them for a 31-yard play and a red zone score earlier. They kept Arrington on Jones again, but faked a blitz with Kendrick Lewis to peel him off toward Jones as well. The result was a one-on-one with Green in the end zone and, essentially, a win.
This one isn't as obvious, but attention still is given to Jones and Green to open up Eifert against the Chargers.
The Chargers drop a lot of players in coverage here in an obvious passing situation. While Ryan Hewitt and Giovani Bernard commanded attention, Jones in the slot and Green outside made the linebackers hesitate while also garnering three defenders between the two of them.