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Jones can help fix Bengals' red-zone woes

CINCINNATI -- After a six-week absence, Marvin Jones' time on the Cincinnati Bengals' proverbial shelf has come to an end.

The third-year wide receiver rejoined the team at practice Tuesday -- the team's only one this week -- working out with teammates for the first time since breaking a bone at the top of his left foot during a preseason practice last month.

Jones is still on target to return to game action next week when the Bengals come off this week's bye with their all-important Week 5 Sunday night game at New England. Receivers coach James Urban said Tuesday that the receiver is "way ahead of schedule."

Whenever Jones does get back into the game-day rotation, he could give the Bengals a meaningful jolt in one of the few areas in which they have struggled so far this season. As a valued playmaker in the red zone last season, his services inside the 20 have been desperately needed so far this year.

"Obviously that's one area where, through all our great self-scout that we do this week and through the bye week, it's what we've got to get better at," Urban said about the lack of red-zone scoring. "We have to score touchdowns. We can't just keep settling for field goals. At some point quickly that becomes critical, and obviously the natural inclination with Marv scoring 10 touchdowns last year is that hopefully that helps."

In 10 trips to the red zone through the first three weeks of this season, six have resulted in touchdowns. All but one of those touchdowns have come on the ground, with running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill routinely pounding in goal-line scores.

The Bengals' lone passing red-zone touchdown came Sunday when quarterback Andy Dalton ran out wide to catch a cross-field pass from receiver Mohamed Sanu on a trick play. After the grab, Dalton eluded a defensive back before diving into the pylon for the 18-yard score. It was the first time in Bengals history that a quarterback caught a touchdown pass.

Last season, the yards inside the 20 were where Jones' game kicked into another gear. Nine of his career-high 10 touchdown receptions last season came inside the 20. Of his 71 overall catches, 12 came in that same area on just 14 targets. When it came to making plays in the red zone, Jones dropped just one pass.

The game when Jones made a name for himself was the late-October blowout win over the Jets last fall. That afternoon, he caught a franchise-record four touchdown passes in the 49-9 win. All four of those scores came in the red zone.

On Thursday, we'll explore another way the Bengals can address their red-zone issue.