By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
When the Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, their most important defensive player may be cornerback Jonathan Jones.
That sounds wild, but Jones was key to the Pats’ victory over Kansas City in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. Tasked with covering lightning-fast big-play receiver Tyreek Hill, Jones held him without a catch in coverage. Hill’s only catch that night came against Keion Crossen.
Hill made six catches for 62 yards in the Chiefs’ 23-17 win over the Patriots last season, but didn’t burn them for what Devin McCourty terms “the big one.” Jones’ coverage on Hill will be paramount to preventing that again. Their matchup is the product of a growing trend in the NFL of speedy, dynamic deep-threat receivers lining up in the slot.
Jones has been up to the task before, and Bill Belichick seems to hope he will be again. His development into one of the league’s better slot corners and a versatile piece who can play outside or at safety has been critical.
“To have a fast player inside is a big advantage,” Belichick said Friday. “A lot of the players that play in the slot now are becoming more in the mold of – obviously Tyreek Hill’s elite, but there are a lot of faster players that are now getting played in the slot. As opposed to maybe a few years back, a lot of players inside were, I’d say, more possession receivers, guys that worked more in the short-to-intermediate zones. When you get a guy like Hill in there that can take the top off of the defense from in the slot, that really changes your defense and it changes the passing game offensively dramatically. So, to be able to not have to substitute but be able to play the same guy in there, and regardless of who they put in that position, is a huge advantage for us and all the versatile things that Jon can do are very valuable.
“But, Jon’s got good intelligence, he’s a tough kid, he’s really a good tackler and a tough competitor. I’m glad we have him. I mean, he’s the ultimate college free agent that came in, earned a role in the kicking game, developed into a good defensive player and is having a good NFL career.”
Jones will look to improve after an up-and-down game against the Raiders last Sunday. Las Vegas slot receiver Hunter Renfrow made six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, most notably a 26-yard grab that set up a Raiders score before halftime. Jones bounced back with a pair of pass breakups in the second half, which speaks to his competitiveness and resilience.
This is obviously not Jones’ first go-around against Hill, so the expectation is he will be prepared and confident heading into one of the game’s crucial matchups.
“It’s just two good programs,” Jones said earlier this week. “We have good coaches. They have good coaches. We have good players. They have good players. One of those games – just two good teams going up against each other. We’re excited for the challenge.”
Here’s myself and Alex Barth talking Patriots-Chiefs:
And here’s my call with the Adam Jones Show from Thursday night:
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.