Mac Jones will be feeling the heat Sunday afternoon and it will have very little to do with the expected oppressive conditions in South Florida.
The Dolphins have run a variety of defensive schemes and while they are not exclusively a blitz-happy unit, they do feature many pressure packages designed to disrupt timing and demoralize quarterbacks.
As Bill Belichick noted Wednesday, Dolphins coach Brian Flores runs a game plan attack, similar to how the Patriots operate, meaning opponents need to be prepared for anything and everything.
“We’ve played games against them where the game was almost exclusively three-man rush and we’ve played games and seen games, like the Baltimore game this year, where they bring in max pressure in the ballpark of, call it, 20 times,” the Patriots coach said. “Then, we’ve seen them in between, where it’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that, some blitz-zone, some blitz-man, some man to man, some zone.”
No matter how the Dolphins bring the pressure, Belichick said the keys to combating it are communication, decision-making, and following your techniques.
“It’s still kind of the same concept of, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a hat on a hat. You’ve got to get everybody picked up, and if you don’t, you’d better know what your outlets are in the passing game,” he said. “In the running game, it’s the same thing. When they pressure from the outside, that usually involves some type of interior line movement. If you can anticipate that, that can really help you in the running game. If you can’t and you get surprised by it, then that creates a problem, too.”
Jones has shown consistent growth when it comes to presnap recognition, setting protections, and getting the ball out quickly — skills needed to help keep defenders out of his face. Though he’s been sacked 26 times, he’s only hit the deck twice in the last four games.
The rookie has watched a lot of tape on the Dolphins, who rode their defense to a recent seven-game winning streak and are tied for third in the NFL with 46 sacks.
“They’ve done a really good job getting after the quarterback, creating negative plays, obviously, with sacks and all that,” Jones said Wednesday. “They’ve done really good down there and given quarterbacks they play against a lot of different looks, so we just have to be ready, follow what we know, and follow our rules. That’s pretty much all there is to it.”
Belichick, who said the Patriots have done a good job of handling the blitz this season, was quick to remind that it doesn’t all fall on the quarterback.
“It’s really team execution. One guy can’t handle a blitz by himself,” he said. “You’ve got to have receivers doing the right thing. You’ve got to have the pass protection working together. The quarterback’s got to know who the protection has, know who they don’t have, get the ball out accordingly, and see the roaming players that are in blitz-zone or that drop out in a man-blitz, that kind of thing.”
Flores has been impressed by the progress he’s seen from Jones.
“I think he’s done a very nice job. He has a good command of the offense, poise, good decision-making. And really, as an entire offense, it’s complementary to the skill set of each individual player,” he said. “Run game, pass game. Josh [McDaniels] has done a good job of putting those guys in position to have success. Obviously, Mac’s at the helm and he’s done a nice job.”
Safety Kyle Dugger was the only player who is not on the reserve/COVID-19 list who did not practice Wednesday. The Patriots’ leading tackler (92) is dealing with an arm injury. On the positive side, receiver Nelson Agholor, who has missed the last two weeks because of a concussion suffered in Indianapolis, was back in a limited capacity … Nine others were in the same category: running back Damien Harris (hamstring); receiver Jakobi Meyers (thigh); center David Andrews (shoulder); left tackle Isaiah Wynn (hip); linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee); defensive lineman Christian Barmore (knee); safety Adrian Phillips (knee); special teamer Cody Davis (wrist); and kicker Nick Folk (left knee) … The Patriots didn’t add any players to the reserve/COVID-19 list … As they often do when preparing for a trip to South Florida, the Patriots practiced in their fieldhouse Wednesday. As to how high he can crank the heat, Belichick said with a smile, “Not as hot as it’ll be in Miami.” … The Patriots hosted visits with free agents D.J. Daniel, a defensive back who was most recently with the Jaguars, and receiver Jaylen Smith, who was with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts last season.