The Jacksonville Jaguars had arguably the best offensive performance of any team in Week 11. A big reason for that was the return of wide receiver Zay Jones to the lineup, even if the stat sheet says differently.
The Jaguars' offense ranked No. 1 in EPA/Play in Week 11, with Trevor Lawrence scoring four touchdowns, Calvin Ridley having his best game as a Jaguar, and several other players such as Christian Kirk and D'Ernest Johnson being on the receiving end of big plays.
Jones, though, had a quiet overall return. He played 63% of the snaps, catching all four his targets for 20 yards. He was fourth on the team in targets behind Ridley, Kirk, and Evan Engram, and sixth in receiving yards with Johnson and Luke Farrell producing more yards.
Despite the seemingly forgettable stats, though, Jones' impact was clear. The Jaguars used Ridley in more creative ways, using him in condensed formations and inside, with Jones' presence allowing him to do more than simply run sideline routes all game.
“He played okay. It was good to see him get out there, it was good to see him get that early catch. I think he had four targets, four catches yesterday, kind of getting him back in the mix," Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday.
"I think it just helps the whole overall offense. We don’t have to switch and change as many personnel groupings as much as possible. He was tough in the run game. I think he was another one, much like Walker [Little] a week ago, he’s just knocking off that rust and just getting back out there in game speed. He’ll continue to get stronger and better and more confident each week. From an offensive perspective, it was really good to see him back.”
Jones is in his second season with the franchise after signing a three-year, $24 million deal with $14 million in guarantees in 2022.
Jones caught 82 passes for 823 yards and five touchdowns in his first season with the team, appearing in 16 regular-season games and starting two playoff games. Jones caught 13 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs.
"I think he just opens things up. His speed obviously is a threat down the field. He's really smart. I just know where he's going to be. He does a great job making plays when his number is called," Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said after the win on Sunday.
"Obviously today we were kind of getting him back, getting him back going. Like you said, it wasn't anything crazy numbers-wise, but he has a real affect on this team and the offense when he is playing. He brings a lot of energy. Just a guy that plays the game the right way, and it's great to have him back out there."
Jones, who injured his knee in Week 2 vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, had appeared in just three games this year before the Titans win. Week 1 was the only game where he played the entire four quarters without leaving due to injury, though he did return in Week 2 after a brief absence.
Jones then missed the next two weeks before returning in Week 5 vs. the Buffalo Bills, where he caught five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown before his injury flamed up again in the second half.
"That's the thing that I've learned in this league that when players come back from injury that you don't bring them back slowly. They're in for a reason, and you go full steam ahead," Pederson said on Sunday.
"Zay was ready to go, and he was a big part of this today. He played tough. He played physical. He made some catches today, and just really I think just having his presence out there opened up some other things for us, but I was proud of Zay. Again, one of the players that's been injured, but got himself in a position. He was healthy to go and did a nice job today."