I’ve always considered myself to be pretty even keeled. The Jacoby incident is no exception. Before I get into why I’m not despondent over Jacoby’s continued existence, I want to clarify that I don’t think that Jacoby didn't screw up. I just don’t think that what he did was completely without reason.
Let’s start by examining the situation the Texans were in: they were on the road, in a hostile environment, in the playoffs. From what I can tell, most Texans fans were willing to concede that the Ravens should be favored, based on having their first string quarterback, and playing at home. Of all of the other elements that come into play in a football game, those were the only two aspects of the game where Baltimore had a clear cut advantage. If "Bad Flacco" showed up (and it seems that with this Texans defense, it was inevitable that he would), the only thing the Ravens would have on their side would be the home crowd. We had just gotten a three and out, and it looked like "Bad Flacco" was set to make an appearance.
Before getting into what actually happened, let’s quickly go over some basic rules for punt returns.
- The first rule of punt returns is catch the ball.
- The second rule of punt returns is to hold on to the ball.
- If a player on the opposing team is going to make the second rule impossible, call a fair catch.
- If you start lined up inside the 20 yard line, never go backwards to make the catch. If it’s going to go over your head, let it. It will go into the end zone, and you’ll start at the 20.
On the punt, Jacoby was settled in at about the 12 yard line. When the ball bounced at around the 16 yard line, there were two Ravens players within 5 yards of him, and no Texans. Based on the above rules, Jacoby was in a decent position. He was far enough back that he could run forward to make the catch. Assuming that there was a minimum level of blocking, he would have his momentum going forward, ready to return the punt.
What happened is that there wasn’t a minimum level of blocking. Two Ravens players got down the field before everyone else, with no Texans nearby to slow them down. This prevented Jacoby from stepping forward to catch the ball.
Once Jacoby wasn’t going to be able to catch the ball at the 16 and return it, he should have gotten away from the ball, and let it bounce into the end zone. Once again, the lack of blocking, combined with the way the ball bounced, prevented this from being a viable option. In an ideal world, if Jacoby doesn't catch the ball at the 16 yard line, it flies over his head, into the endzone for a touchback. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, if Jacoby just gets out of the way, then the ball most likely gets downed inside the 5 yard line, and the Ravens defense pins its ears back trying to get the safety. If Jacoby returns the punt, the crowd never gets into the game. If they down the ball at the 3 yard line, the crowd comes alive, and all of a sudden, we have a rookie quarterback facing one of the best defenses in the NFL, with little to no operating room.
The crux of my argument is this: When Jacoby Jones saw the bounce that the ball took, he had to make a split second decision between getting the ball at the 12 yard line, potentially surprising the Ravens coverage team and getting a decent return, or letting the Ravens down the ball at the 3 yard line. Between these two options, Jacoby Jones made the right decision. The only issue was that he didn’t execute. Lack of consistent execution has been a problem with Jones since he arrived in Houston, and I'm absolutely in favor of Jacoby being judged on that lack of execution. I just don't think it's fair to crucify him for his decision-making on one punt return in the playoffs.