BEREA — As the games have grown in importance, so has safety Sean Jones’ impact.
He continued a run of eight strong weeks by making two of the most critical plays in the Browns’ 8-0 win over Buffalo last week.
In the first quarter, he sprinted toward the sideline, dropped his shoulder and separated receiver Josh Reed from the ball. A completion would’ve given the Bills a first down inside the 10-yard line. Instead, the Browns took over possession.
Then in the fourth quarter, with the Bills facing fourth-and-5 from the 10-yard line, Jones saw running back Fred Jackson’s eyes darting, recognized the formation from earlier in the game and alerted his team a screen pass could be coming.
“It says that he’s paying attention in the meetings,” coach Romeo Crennel said. “He’s watching film. He’s aware of what’s happening on the field.”
A screen it was, and Jones was part of the gang that tackled Jackson to preserve the win and keep the Browns pushing toward the playoffs.
“Every game he’s been improving,” safety Brodney Pool said Friday.
Jones, a second-round pick in 2004, had a breakout season in 2006, his first as a starter. He had 107.5 tackles and five interceptions and made Dr. Z’s all-pro team in Sports Illustrated.
With the great year came great expectations, and a slow start to 2007 had people questioning if Jones and Pool could succeed without veteran Brian Russell. But the secondary has done a better job preventing the big plays (only one of at least 30 yards in the last four games) and Jones’ playmaking ability has shown up across the field.
“I think he’s become more settled in the defense and more settled with the new responsibility that he had going into this year,” Crennel said.
Jones stopped a fourth-and-1 late in the win over St. Louis. He had an interception at Baltimore and hit quarterback Kyle Boller on a blitz, forcing the ball to float into the arms of Pool, who returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. Jones had interceptions in Arizona and New York, and added a half-sack and two quarterback pressures versus the Jets.
In the last seven games, he has four of his team-leading five interceptions, a half-sack, a tackle for loss and 50 of his 89 tackles.
“The expectations for Sean weren’t quite as high last year and it was a pleasant surprise,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “This year, they were really high. Over the course of the last few games, the kind of production everybody has wanted to see has shown up.”
Jones objects when asked if he’s played better lately. It could be that he’s sick of hearing the question.
“I just make plays when they come to me,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, I still made plays. They were just a different kind of plays.
“Toward the end of the year, the interceptions came up. That’s what everybody sees. I don’t think I played any differently.”
Jones is a soft-spoken Georgian, but he’s not shy about his talent. Before he had started a game he compared himself to Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu and Baltimore’s Ed Reed. The pair of division rivals and Indianapolis’ Bob Sanders were named to the Pro Bowl this week, while Jones wasn’t even mentioned.
That didn’t sit well.
“If you compare numbers last year and this year combined, my numbers are better than any other safety in the league,” he said. “I can’t control (the voting). I’m just going to go out there and play Sean Jones-type football.
“Hopefully at the end of the day, I’ll get some good credit for the hard work I’m doing from the Pro Bowl or Cleveland or whatever.”
Reed has six interceptions, 33 tackles and no sacks; Sanders 86 tackles, 2½ sacks and an interception; Polamalu three forced fumbles, 58 tackles, no sacks and no interceptions.
“He’s definitely a Pro Bowl-type player,” Pool said. “He deserved to be one of the guys in there.”
Jones is 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. When he isn’t going for the interception, he’s shown he can lay back and deliver a wallop to an unsuspecting receiver.
“He sets the tone wherever he lines up,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He’s knocking guys out all the time. He always hypes us up.”
Whether it’s big hits, clutch interceptions or a timely blitz, Jones has shown that he can rise to the occasion.
“He can do it all,” Pool said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or email@example.com.