Cyrus Jones finally showing signs of improvement in return game

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It's been a long time coming, but 2016 second-round corner Cyrus Jones finally flashed signs of improvement on Saturday night against the Texans. Unlike the week before against the Jags, he wasn't beaten deep for any touchdowns, and he managed to generally keep his composure while on the field defensively. But his strides there paled in comparison to the talent he flashed in the return game--talent that might just keep him a spot on the roster.

As PatsPulpit's Rich Hill noted, Jones fielded all five of his returns cleanly, and he averaged a 14-yard runback on his four punt returns. Yet while that would be a solid mark for any NFL returner, what sets Jones' performance apart is how he got those yards.

On his three successful returns, Jones averaged 20 yards while helping set up the Pats offense at or beyond midfield on every occasion. On one, he caught the ball with defenders two yards away, calmly sidestepped a Houston gunner screaming towards his face, and scampered up the sideline for a 32-yard gain. On another, he ran towards the Texans sideline before reversing field and gaining 15 yards before being tackled right in front of the Patriot bench. For his third trick, the Alabama product cut directly upfield and hurdled clean over the Houston long snapper before being gang-tackled at the 50-yard line.

All three returns could have easily resulted in lost yardage or turnovers. Jones turned all three into positive gains which helped establish the Pats offense in enemy territory out of the gate. It was an uncharacteristic performance from a guy who just last week was toasted for a 97-yard score. Yet while it wasn't flawless by any stretch--just before halftime, Jones pinned his offense at its own five after making an over-the-shoulder grab at the 12 and being tackled immediately; a veteran punt returner would have called for a fair catch instead of losing yardage and risking a costly turnover--Jones had far fewer abject failures than he has had in previous contests. The highlight-reel hurdles and cross-field cuts were simply the icing on the cake.

It's only one preseason game, and #41 definitely managed to catch some lucky breaks along the way. On a Sunday in the regular season, perhaps the coverage unit locks down those winding, highlight-stick returns, or perhaps the punter simply bangs it over Jones' head and induces him into another wideout-style catch. But on Saturday, Jones showcased an explosiveness that the Pats haven't had in the return game in years. And most importantly, he showed undeniable improvement. At this point, that's just about the best the Pats can ask for.

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