Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones' struggles

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With the Ravens trying to improve to 6-2 as they travel to Cincinnati for a key AFC North showdown on Sunday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player having a worse season than Jacoby Jones.
The return specialist and wide receiver fumbled his second punt in three games in Sunday’s 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons and has virtually disappeared from the offensive game plan with more dropped passes (five) than receptions (four) through the first seven weeks of the season. Head coach John Harbaugh has said on a couple occasions that he feels Jones is pressing as he’s coupled his mishandling of the ball with questionable decisions such as catching a punt at the 2-yard line against Carolina in Week 4.
Asked if he still felt OK with Jones as his returner following his latest fumble, which took place late in the first half when the Ravens were only holding a 14-0 lead, Harbaugh didn’t go out of his way to provide a ringing endorsement on Monday.
“I do.”
The Falcons did not attempt another punt after Jones fumbled at his own 40 and kicker Matt Bryant missed a 57-yard field goal to hand the ball back to the Ravens late in the first half, so it will be intriguing to see how short of a leash — if any — remains for the Pro Bowl return specialist. Harbaugh’s terse answer doesn’t signal the end of Jones as the returner — he’s not going to tip his hand whether the Ravens will make a change or not — but it doesn’t mean we won’t see others such as rookie Michael Campanaro or safe punt returner Lardarius Webb more involved in the return game as early as Sunday in Cincinnati.
Jones took only four offensive snaps against Atlanta, so it’s clear that coordinator Gary Kubiak is looking elsewhere for complementary receivers behind starters Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Dropped passes can certainly be drive killers, but turnovers can dramatically change a game when you’re counting on a possession after making the opponent punt or the opponent has just scored.
The 30-year-old signed an extension with the Ravens this past offseason, agreeing to a four-year, $12 million deal that included $3.5 million in guaranteed money.
Counting the postseason, the former Houston Texans has five returns for touchdowns in his three-year run with the Ravens, but that big-play potential only goes so far when you’re unsure if he’s going to secure the ball. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg hasn’t hesitated in the past to make a change as he replaced speedy kick returner David Reed with a more sure-handed option in Tom Zbikowski in 2011.
The Ravens reaped the benefits of Jones being a game-changer on the positive side in his first two years in Baltimore, but he’s been a different kind of game-changer altogether so far in 2014. And it’s a tightrope act that’s feeling more and more perilous to navigate for a team currently leading the AFC North and heading into two key divisional road games.