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Film review: Despite a loss, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones showed some important traits, especially toughness

Mac Jones held up nicely against an aggressive defense in his NFL debut.
Mac Jones held up nicely against an aggressive defense in his NFL debut.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Mac Jones was hard on himself following his NFL debut Sunday, a 17-16 loss to the Dolphins. And Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels doesn’t want to offer too much praise for a rookie quarterback, especially after a loss.

“I think he knows that there’s a few decisions that he made and a couple reads and a few throws …” McDaniels said Tuesday. “There’s no young player that’s played in their first NFL game that didn’t say, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of things I can learn moving forward.’ ”

But Jones certainly set himself a solid benchmark. Though the Patriots scored only one touchdown, a review of the game confirms what we saw: Jones was smart, efficient, accurate, and, perhaps most importantly, tough.

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Here is a deeper look at Jones’s first performance based on a review of the game and a dive into the analytics:

Coaching

Before getting into Jones’s performance, let’s evaluate his coaching.

▪ McDaniels was a bit conservative, but that’s understandable given that it was Jones’s first game and he was facing an aggressive defense that led the NFL with 29 takeaways last year.

Jones dropped back to pass 40 times (excluding penalties), compared with 30 running plays — a desirable balance, at least on paper. But 79.5 percent (31 of 39) of his passes were thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, the eighth-highest percentage among all quarterbacks in Week 1.

How Mac Jones's short throws compare across the rest of the NFL Here's a look at the percentage of Mac Jones's throws that were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Rank Player Team Total pass attempts Attempts within 10 yards of LOS Percentage
1 Andy Dalton Bears 38 36 94.7 percent
2 Matt Ryan Falcons 35 29 82.9 percent
3 Jared Goff Lions 57 47 82.5 percent
4 Carson Wentz Colts 38 31 81.6 percent
5 Jalen Hurts Eagles 35 28 80 percent
5 Ryan Tannehill Titans 35 28 80 percent
7 Kirk Cousins Vikings 49 39 79.6 percent
8 Mac Jones Patriots 39 31 79.5 percent
23 Tom Brady Buccaneers 50 33 66 percent
30 Tua Tagovailoa Dolphins 27 15 55.6 percent
Average 36 26 71 percent

Jones let it rip on just 8 of 39 attempts, completing five of them for 100 yards. It is unclear whether that is what the plays called for, or Jones simply settled for shorter, safer throws.

▪ The run/pass balance was even on first down (16 passes, 15 runs) and second down (12 passes, 11 rushes), but too often McDaniels followed an incompletion on first down with a run on second down, especially in the first half.

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And on the Patriots’ field goal drive that cut the score to 17-16, they moved down the field thanks to seven straight pass plays, but then went run-run-incompletion when they got to the red zone. Run/pass balance is overrated, and it would be nice to see McDaniels put the game more in Jones’s hands.

What will the combination of Mac Jones and Josh McDaniels mean the rest of the way?
What will the combination of Mac Jones and Josh McDaniels mean the rest of the way?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

▪ But it is easy to see why McDaniels called so many runs, as that put Jones in manageable third downs all game. The Patriots converted 11 of 16 third downs (68.8 percent), and their average distance was a manageable 5.7 yards. Six out of 16 times they faced third and 1, and 11 out of 16 times they faced 6 or fewer yards.

Only three times did Jones face a third down of longer than 10 yards, and one was converted (11 yards to James White).

▪ Curiously, McDaniels didn’t call much play-action; I counted four official attempts, plus the sack on the first pass play, and one called back by penalty. Jones completed 2 of 4 passes — a 13-yard slant to Nelson Agholor and the 7-yard touchdown to Agholor in the second quarter.

▪ Bill Belichick and McDaniels benched Rhamondre Stevenson after he fumbled in the first quarter, and it ultimately cost the Patriots. Stevenson played four snaps on the second drive, ending in the fumble, then came on for one snap in the second quarter after Damien Harris got injured. But after that, he was done for the day, as Brandon Bolden came on for two snaps late in the fourth quarter.

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It was a rough opener for rookie Rhamondre Stevenson.
It was a rough opener for rookie Rhamondre Stevenson.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

It’s hard to blame the decision, since Stevenson fumbled and got destroyed by Elandon Roberts on a blitz pickup. But it led to Harris getting a career-high 40 snaps and a career-high 23 carries, plus three pass targets, and Harris was clearly gassed when he fumbled late in the fourth quarter. Two plays earlier, Harris had tapped out of the game to catch his breath.

▪ Belichick also chose to punt from the Dolphins’ 37-yard line early in the game instead of attempting a 55-yard field goal with the wind at his back. Nick Folk doesn’t have the strongest leg, but the Patriots obviously could have used those 3 points.

Jones’s performance

▪ Without knowing exactly how many reads he hit or missed, Jones seemed to do a nice job of taking what was given to him, delivering the ball accurately, and, most impressively, hanging in the pocket and not rushing his throws in the face of the pass rush. He had nice completions of 21 yards to Agholor and 16 yards to Hunter Henry in which he got crushed immediately after the throw.

▪ Jones’s completion percentage of 74.4 was excellent (seventh best in the NFL). But more telling were his yards per attempt (7.21, 19th best) and passer rating (102.6, 13th best). He did a good job of getting the ball out and finding his receivers, but you would like to see him push the ball downfield a bit more.

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▪ His accuracy was outstanding on several throws, particularly the 26-yard fade to White on third and 11, and the 21-yard dig route to Agholor along the left sideline. But there were a few throws Jones probably would like to have back — including a slant pass to Jakobi Meyers that was too far out in front, was tipped up, and almost intercepted; and a quick out to Meyers on third and 4 in the fourth quarter that was a little too low and away.

The Patriots had to kick a field goal after that incompletion to make it 17-16, and a better throw would have kept the drive going and perhaps led to a touchdown.

▪ Jones is better at throwing on the run than expected. His best throw of the day didn’t count because of a penalty — a 33-yarder to Kendrick Bourne in which Jones avoided two pass rushers, rolled to the right, and threw a perfect dart 25 yards down the field. Jones also did a nice job of rolling out to his right and hitting Jonnu Smith in stride for 10 yards along the sideline.

Mac Jones calls out signals at the line of scrimmage during Sunday's loss to Miami.
Mac Jones calls out signals at the line of scrimmage during Sunday's loss to Miami.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

▪ Jones didn’t just throw a bunch of bubble screens, either, as many young quarterbacks do. Of his 281 passing yards, 162 were gained through the air, 119 after the catch.

▪ Jones showed good awareness at the line of scrimmage. You can hear him shout out, “Hey, 49,” right before the Dolphins brought a corner blitz. The Patriots blocked it well, and Jones delivered a 25-yard bullet to Agholor over the middle.

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Later in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins showed an all-out blitz on third and 5, and you can hear Jones scream out, “Hunter! Hunter! Hunter!” Jones took the snap and fired a quick out to Henry for 6 yards and the first down.

▪ The sack-fumble on his first dropback of the game was certainly ill-advised, but the real breakdown happened in front of him. Smith, motioning across the formation, either didn’t see Byron Jones blitzing off the corner, or didn’t realize he was his man. Byron Jones got a free rush at Mac Jones, who needs to learn to just take the sack instead of getting rid of the ball.

▪ The 25-yarder and the 7-yard touchdown pass to Agholor were both against zone coverage.

▪ Tough day for left tackle Isaiah Wynn. He had a holding penalty that thwarted one red-zone drive, and missed a block on third down that thwarted another red-zone drive. Both ended in field goals instead of touchdowns.

Vs. the blitz

▪ The Dolphins blitzed Jones on 21 of 40 dropbacks, and he kept his composure. Jones completed 16 of 20 passes for 138 yards, a touchdown, a sack, and a passer rating of 95.4.

Mac Jones vs. the blitz
Stat Number League ranking
Pass attempts 20 2nd
Completions 16 2nd
Completion percentage 80 percent 2nd
Yards 138 5th
Yards per attempt 6.9 15th
Passer rating 95.4 16th

The 20 passing attempts against the blitz were the second most of any quarterback in Week 1 (Dak Prescott had 27). But despite the 80 percent completion rate, Jones averaged only 6.9 yards per attempt, meaning there were a lot of short passes.

He had two completions over 20 yards against the blitz — 21 yards to Agholor on a five-man blitz, and 25 yards to Agholor on a four-man zone blitz.

▪ The Dolphins blitzed Jones on four of his 12 attempts on third down, and Jones converted the first down on three of them.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.