The coverage units for the New Orleans Saints know exactly what to expect Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from Baltimore returner Jacoby Jones.
Jones, a New Orleans native who prepped at Abramson, is going to return every kickoff that doesn't sail out of the end zone and every punt in which he has a foot of separation.
"We've got a chart on that, knowing the percentage of a guy and when he takes it out and when he doesn't," said Saints linebacker Ramon Humber, who has three special teams tackles this year and has been a mainstay on the coverage units during his six NFL seasons.
"A guy like that, they're going to give him an open window – you can take it out any time you want with a guy like that, and what he's capable of doing. It doesn't matter where the ball is kicked, you've got to expect a returner to take it out at all times."
Jones, especially, is willing to take the chance, and with good results.
He's sixth in the league with a 31.7-yard average on 20 kickoffs, including a 108-yard touchdown return, and his three returns of 40-plus yards is second-most in the league. The 2012 All-Pro and Pro Bowler, when he set a Ravens franchise record with a 30.7-yard average and two kickoff returns for touchdowns, also has returned 20 punts for an 8.2-yard average.
"I would say this: This is a green light team," Coach Sean Payton said Friday. "In other words, this returner – whether it lands eight yards deep, nine yards deep – as long as his heel is not hitting the baseline, we're preparing to cover a kick. He's kind of earned that green light.
"Most returners use some common sense with regard to where that ball is at with the hang time in making their decisions. But unless that thing is kicked out of the end zone, we're going to be on point, and have to be, because he's that good. I think you see his ability both in the kick and punt return game. He's an elite player."
Jones, in fact, was a key factor in Baltimore's victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII, which was played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 2013.
He had a Super Bowl-record, 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and finished with 206 yards in kickoff returns. In his career, he has returned five kickoffs and four punts for touchdowns.
The Saints faced a similar return threat last Sunday in Cincinnati's Adam Jones, who returned the only punt he fielded and the two kickoffs that didn't sail out of the end zone.
They'll face Jacoby Jones with coverage units that have been affected by injury – rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri (six special teams tackles) is out for the season, as is safety Rafael Bush. Todd Davis (three tackles) was signed off the Saints practice squad by Denver, taking away another special teams contributor. Safeties Jamarca Sanford and Pierre Warren are recent additions, though Warren was with the Saints throughout training camp.
"You try to reduce scheme and really work on effort, timing, energy and who's on there," Payton said. "Some things happen at a fast speed and generally, the guys with pretty good football awareness end up doing the right thing. A guy who does not have good football awareness, it's a unit where that could stand out very quickly."
Humber said the philosophy doesn't change much, regardless of the opponent.
"Just population to the ball," he said. "Guys just have to beat blocks – beat blocks and get off blocks. Do that and we'll be able to contain him if he brings it out."