Ravens’ Jacoby Jones Poses Tough Test For Patriots’ Special Teams Unit

FOXBORO, Mass. — Don’t expect the New England Patriots to be caught off-guard on special teams.

The Patriots are well aware of Jacoby Jones’ potential impact in the third phase. As such, New England is gearing up to stop the Baltimore Ravens’ skilled return man in Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

“Without question,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said Wednesday when asked if Jones is New England’s top priority on special teams. “There’s no other combo returner in the league like him.

“He poses a lot of problems with his size and speed. You look across the board, there are not too many guys like that. And any time he touches the ball, we have to have a sense of urgency because he can hit a home run at any time. He is definitely priority No. 1, and we’ve got to do a good job with him.”

Jones averaged 30.6 yards per kick return during the regular season, good for fifth among returners with at least 10 returns. He even took one to the house in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, giving him nine return touchdowns — five kick returns, four punt returns — over the course of his eight-year career with the Ravens and Houston Texans.

“Very few (returners) that you’ll see will play as aggressively as he does,” Slater said. “And it’s not only returning kickoffs but punts as well. I think he has a great deal of confidence in his ability to make plays, and rightfully so.

“Then, the other 10 guys out there, when they see you have a guy like this, they’re going to go the extra mile to make sure they give him a chance to spring it. They’re aggressive, he’s aggressive, and we’ve got to be ready to counter that.”

The Patriots haven’t allowed a return touchdown since Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller took a kickoff 95 yards in the 2010 season opener. But they also know there will be a serious threat on the opposite sideline this Saturday. If the Patriots become complacent, it could be off to the races for No. 12. Therefore, New England is doing whatever it can to be ready out of the gate.

“We feel it’s important that we go out and set the tone,” Slater said. “Obviously, we’re the first play of the game, and I think it’s important in a game like this where the teams are so evenly matched. If you can’t gain an edge in that third phase, it can make a huge difference. I think if we can go out and set the tone early, it’ll be big for us.”

Who said special teams was the forgotten facet of the game?

Thumbnail photo via Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images

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