For Baltimore Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will always be a part of him.
It’s where the Saints, who represent his hometown of New Orleans, play their home games. And it’s where the eight-year veteran scored two touchdowns — one on a 108-yard kickoff return — to help the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013.
“There’s always going to be history there because what we did was historical,” Jones, who attended now-defunct Abramson High School, said in a statement provided by the Ravens on Friday. “Every time when I walk in that stadium, no matter whether I’m retired or not, I’ll be like, ‘This is a piece of me.’ ”
Obviously, when the Ravens (6-4) visit the Superdome on Monday night, the Saints (4-6) won’t want Jones to create such sweet memories again. And, on paper, they’re well-equipped to handle a compelling matchup against one of the city’s sons on punts, if less so on kickoffs.
Jones ranked first and fourth in yards per kickoff return the previous two NFL campaigns. This year, he’s second at 31.7 yards per return. A 108-yard TD he scored in a Nov. 2 defeat at Pittsburgh is the longest such play in the NFL this season.
“This is a green-light team,” Saints coach Sean Payton said of Jones and the Ravens. “(With) this returner, whether it lands 8 yards deep, 9 yards deep — as long as his heel is not hitting the baseline, we are preparing to cover a kick. He has kind of earned that green light.”
Payton also respects the ability Jones has shown in the punt return game since joining Baltimore in 2012. He was seventh in the NFL with 341 punt return yards his first year with the Ravens. He is 12th this season with 163, and he is 14th in the league at 8.2 yards per punt return.
The good news for the Saints is that they started the week having surrendered the fewest yards per punt return in the NFL (3.4). And punter Thomas Morstead’s average of 42.5 net yards per punt was tied for third-best in the league, meaning Jones — who has lost two fumbles this year — could be in for a stiff challenge in that area.
“Our coverage units have been outstanding,” said Payton, attributing that to his players’ effort and timing. “When you start adding up coverage yardage and return yardage, those are yards that are going to equal a field goal, at some point a touchdown.”
Jones enters Monday with the upper hand on kickoff returns. The Saints this year have allowed the sixth-highest average yards per kickoff return (25.8), and the 594 yards they’ve given up on 23 kickoffs is tied for the 13th-highest.
All of which puts pressure on the Saints’ first line of defense in those situations: kickoff specialist Morstead. Jones won’t be able to do anything on kickoffs if Morstead boosts his season total of touchbacks (30).
Morstead doesn’t mind the extra eyes on him. He and the kickoff coverage units have fared well containing Atlanta’s Devin Hester, Tampa Bay’s Solomon Patton, San Francisco’s Bruce Ellington and Cincinnati’s Adam “Pacman” Jones. All stand among the NFL’s leaders in yards per kickoff return, and the Bengals’ Jones is No. 1 on the list.
They did less well against Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who racked up 120 yards on four kickoff returns, including a 43-yarder that is the longest of the season against the Saints.
But that doesn’t give Morstead pause, and he explained why: “If I have a bad (kick), I can make anybody look good. If I have a good (kick), I can make anybody not look so good.”