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Playoff duet

Posted Jan 2, 2014

Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, the Cal bookends, play with a chip on their shoulders, glue on their hands and a song in their heart when they meet in Sunday's wild card game.

Wide receivers Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen can provide a little background music for this one as the Bengals try to figure out how to stop the NFL's best offense on third down when they play the Chargers in Sunday's 1:05 p.m. wild card game at Paul Brown Stadium.

With 10 touchdowns Cincinnati's Jones has become a threat in his own right opposite three-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green with one-third of his 51 catches and nearly half his TDs coming on third down. When Jones scores, the Bengals are 6-1.

With 1,046 yards and four of his eight touchdowns coming on third down, San Diego's Allen is everyone's AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year if you don't think it is Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. Allen was all over the place when he caught 106 yards against the Bengals in San Diego last month, just one of six receivers in the last two years to hit 100 against Cincinnati.

If you want to get the scouting report on Allen, you've come to the right guy. Jones had a year on him when they teamed up at the University of California, where they apparently formed the most underrated tandem in the country. But it was valuable because they mentored each other.

"I knew the moment he stepped on he was going to play across from me," Jones said after Thursday's practice. "In terms of getting him ready all the stuff, all the routes, letting him watch the tape when I was a freshman, letting him watch one-on-ones and stuff like that bringing him along. That was big. He already came in polished and smart. Him spending time with me going over football and even outside of football, it was big." 

The scouting report may be so good because it was like looking in a mirror on draft day.

"I was just waiting for him to get picked. It didn’t really matter where it was. He slid down and I know a lot of teams are going through it because they let him slip. He fell where he fell and I knew he was going to make an impact," Jones said. "That’s my little brother. I remember a lot of stuff about him. We spent a lot of time together. He’s a great player. From Day One he’s been explosive since I’ve known him. He’s explosive. He’s a game-changer."

Jones could have been describing himself. He's 6-2, 195. Allen is 6-2, 211 pounds. They play with a chip on their shoulders, glue on their hands and a song in their heart.

"Sometimes before games he’d go on the piano and I’d sing," said Jones, who grew up singing well and strong in the church choir. "When we were at the hotel and stuff like that. I’m telling you, everything we do is essentially the same.

"In the lobby TV people would come. There was one time that I think ESPN people were there and they were filming it. That’s my little bro."

Little bro is playing big. Allen is fourth and teammate Eddie Royal is second in the NFL in Pro Football Focus's category for the percentage of  times they make a catch when the ball is thrown their way. Bengals cornerback Terence Newman, who played against Allen last month, said he runs his routes like a four-year veteran.

Jones is supposed to be the speedster and, indeed, he's ranked fifth in the NFL by PFF when it comes to catching balls longer than 20 yards. But he says to watch out for Allen, 14th in yards after catch. And both are in the top 10 in the NFL when it comes to their passer rating on their targets with Jones fifth and Allen seventh.

"That’s the thing. When the ball is in his hand he’s a speed guy, too," Jones said. "He’s a student of the game; if he can play in all positions. He can play inside, outside he just makes plays. When the ball goes his way he takes advantage of his opportunity And he’s elusive for a taller guy. He makes sure he’s not denied." 

They know all about denial. Jones went through it first last year when he waited until the fifth round. Then Allen waited until the third this year. Both seemed to suffer from the lack of steady quarterback play and while the scouts thought Jones had the raw speed but not the polish, Allen was smooth but lacked elite seed. But look at the stats. Each has helped lead his team to the playoffs.

"I definitely know what that felt like. Let’s not get on that subject," Jones said with a laugh about the draft. "I just let him go through that. I know I didn’t want to be talked to by anybody so I just talked to him after. I knew he was going to be a great asset and I knew once he got his opportunity, the first few games he really wasn’t getting that but once he got his opportunity I knew he was going to blow up. ... He was the No. 1 wide receiver on people’s big boards for a reason. All that matters is that he had his opportunity and he’s showing why he was up there so high."

Pretty good scouting report.

"We have had a lot of time to talk about everything," Jones said. "When we are on the big stage, maybe we’ll be on the same team. What if we play against each other? Stuff like that. It’s happened in his first year in the league. It’s pretty cool to see that happen."

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