Even though Mac Jones threw for only 186 yards in Sunday’s win against the Jets, and none of his 30 pass attempts traveled to the end zone, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said he’s not being conservative with the rookie quarterback.
“I trust him completely,” McDaniels said Tuesday. “There’s not a whole lot we’re holding back from him.”
But McDaniels’s play-calling sent a different message: Either he didn’t trust Jones or he didn’t like the offensive line’s matchup against the Jets’ front four. Because the entire offensive game plan was based around deception and moving the ball through nontraditional means.
On a day when the Patriots had only 60 offensive snaps (including penalties), McDaniels called 12 play-action passes, four screen passes, and seven draw plays, plus a double pass and an end-around. Eight of the first 12 pass plays were play-actions or screens (or both), and the 13th pass was the double pass.
These deception calls created most of the big plays:
▪ 32 yards to Hunter Henry: Play-action pass where the defender accidentally left Henry wide open.
▪ 28 yards to James White: Screen pass with great blocking and vision from White.
▪ 19 yards to Jonnu Smith: Double pass.
▪ 16 yards for Kendrick Bourne: End around.
The only other plays over 15 yards were Damien Harris’s 26-yard touchdown run and a beautiful sideline pass to Jakobi Meyers for 24 yards.
The fact that it was Jones’s first career road game must have played a role in the safe/deception game plan. And most important is that Jones won the game, and that he is just one of eight starting quarterbacks not to throw an interception this year.
But after two weeks, Jones is just 24th in the NFL in yards per attempt (6.77) and has yet to throw a pass into the end zone. It might take a while for the training wheels to come off.
Other insights after reviewing Sunday’s win:
▪ The trickeration didn’t always work. While Jones completed 9 of 10 passes for 56 yards out of play-action, five of the completions went for 2 yards or less. In the first half, Jones was 6 of 6 for just 14 yards with play-action. If not for the 32-yarder to Henry, the numbers would have been awful.
And the draw plays produced just 17 yards on six attempts, plus a holding penalty by Isaiah Wynn. Only the screen passes, which produced gains of 28 and 11 yards by White, were consistently effective.
▪ One likely reason Jones checked down so often: The Jets rarely blitzed. Jones had 20 pass attempts against the Dolphins’ blitz in Week 1, but just five against the Jets (plus a sack), who sent extra rushers only on third down. For 27 of Jones’s 33 dropbacks, the Jets played a simple four-man line and dropped seven into coverage.
▪ Jones excelled against the blitz in Week 1 but had a tougher time against the Jets. He was 2 of 5 for 17 yards and a sack, and converted just 1 of 5 third-down attempts against the blitz. Jones threw a nice 10-yard slant to Henry on a third-and-4, but that was about it.
|2||5||17||0/0||1||Pats convert just 1 of 5 third downs against the blitz|
▪ McDaniels was adequately aggressive with his play-calling. In the first half, when the game was still competitive. McDaniels called 10 passes against seven runs on first down. Jones completed 8 of 9 attempts for 92 yards and a sack. The double pass to Smith, the 24-yarder to Meyers, and White’s 28-yard screen pass all came on first down.
▪ It’s Jones who needs to be more aggressive. On the double pass, he settled for a quick throw to Smith for 19 yards and never saw Nelson Agholor streaking open for a potentially easy touchdown. And on the play in the third quarter when he took an intentional grounding, he didn’t appear to see the coverage breakdown that left Henry all alone in the end zone, though perhaps the pass rush prevented him from making the throw.
▪ The Patriots continue to struggle in the red zone, going 1 for 3 on touchdowns a week after going 1 for 4. But it was really 1 for 2 against the Jets, as the final opportunity came in garbage time when the Patriots were running out the clock.
On the first red zone possession, McDaniels called two runs, which White took for 14 yards and a touchdown. On the second, the Patriots went run-pass-pass, with Jones settling for two checkdowns and a field goal.
I’m more concerned that they didn’t get into the red zone enough than I am that they aren’t calling enough passes for Jones.
▪ Jones’s best throw of the day was his 24-yard fade to Meyers down the sideline, dropped perfectly into the receiver’s arms, just like the wheel route to White against the Dolphins. Jones also did well in the hurry-up offense at the end of the half, completing four straight passes for 34 yards to get the Patriots into field goal range.
Jones’s worst throws were a couple of hospital balls to his running backs in the flat, getting Harris and White flattened by defenders.
▪ This seems obvious, but Jones clearly doesn’t have the athleticism of many of today’s quarterbacks. This was evident early in the fourth quarter when he scrambled to his left, tried to throw against his body to an open Henry, but couldn’t get any mustard on it and threw it into the turf. Zach Wilson and Patrick Mahomes make that throw five times a game.
▪ Fill-in right tackle Yasir Durant was singled out for his struggles in the first half, as he played a part in all three sacks. Durant wasn’t fast enough to pick up blitzing safety Marcus Maye coming around the edge; he was out of position to handle a twist by John Franklin-Myers; and he couldn’t handle Sheldon Rankins around the edge on what may have been a coverage sack.
But Wynn was equally disappointing at left tackle, if not more so considering his status on the team.
On the Maye sack, Jones wasn’t able to avoid the rush because Wynn also whiffed on his block. And Wynn committed two more penalties — a false start that killed the momentum on a scoring drive in the second quarter, and a holding penalty that negated a 9-yard run by J.J. Taylor in the third quarter.
Wynn already has three penalties this year, after committing just one in 10 games last season.
▪ A week after a gassed Harris fumbled the game away after getting a career high in snaps (40) and touches (25), he played only 24 snaps and handled the ball 17 times. Sure enough, he was fresh enough in the third quarter to break through seven tacklers and reach the end zone on a 26-yard run.
▪ The Patriots’ run defense has taken a lot of criticism for allowing 152 yards by the Jets (4.9 average), but it was a mixed performance. The Jets did have five rushing plays of at least 10 yards, as the Patriots missed tackles and struggled to get off blocks. But the Jets also had three negative rushes and two for just 1 yard.
Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy, and Ja’Whaun Bentley made plays in the backfield, and Guy and Bentley combined for a key third-down stuff on the goal line to force a field goal.
Through two weeks, the Patriots lead the NFL with seven run stuffs and are tied for third with 13 tackles for loss. They just need to be more consistent.
▪ Bentley had a fantastic game in Kyle Van Noy’s absence. Bentley’s 68 snaps (out of 73) were second on the team behind Devin McCourty, his eight tackles led the team, and he was doing a little bit of everything.
Bentley’s blitzing led to Wilson’s first and third interceptions. In the run game, he had two tackles for loss, a stuff on the goal line, and drew a holding penalty. And in coverage, Bentley almost picked off a slant pass.