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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Exploring missed opportunities by Patriots rookie Mac Jones

Related: Mac Jones addresses Patriots’ lack of deep passes

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New England Patriots will look to build a winning streak as they welcome Jameis Winston and the New Orleans Saints to Foxborough in Week 3. In Wednesday’s media availability, Bill Belichick had high praise for the Saints and head coach Sean Payton, explaining that New Orleans is one of the “best-coached teams in the league,” while noting they always have a top-ranked offense.

So, let’s explore the matchup and more in this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@TimEdmonds_ When will we see McDaniels open up the playbook more for Mac Jones

After two weeks of football, this has been the main topic of conversation for Patriot fans, players and coaches. Let’s break it down.

When it comes to Mac Jones, here’s what we know: Through two starts, Jones has the sixth-highest completion percentage in the league, but is 24th in yards per attempt. He also has only attempted five throws to a receiver 20-plus yards upfield, ranking 25th in the league. And according to Pro Football Focus, the rookie’s average depth of target is 5.7 yards, good for 27th in the league.

Here’s what we also know: The Patriots began their season against two division rivals with aggressive defenses. Jones has been under constant pressure and has been hit — a lot — because of poor play at both tackle spots. Jones was not the reason the Patriots lost the Week 1 matchup with the Miami Dolphins and played well enough to easily handle the New York Jets. Also, he’s still a rookie with two career NFL games under his belt.

While the Patriots’ passing offense has been operating mainly within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage — much like Jones did throughout training camp and the preseason — there are many reasons the regular season currently looks like it does. And no, one is not because Josh McDaniels is holding things back. As Jones gets more comfortable and the offensive line gets healthy/regains its form, the field should start to get stretched for New England.

@OG_JadeM Who’s responsible for Mac not putting the ball down field? McDaniels, Bill, Mac?

While we just discussed some reasons for the offensive game plan through two weeks, Jones has still missed some opportunities to get the ball downfield. The Patriots had a few instances against New York in which Mac had opportunities down the field, but failed to convert.

The biggest miss came on a third-and-2, where Jones eventually got called for intentional grounding. After a bust in coverage by the Jets, tight end Hunter Henry ran wide open down the right sideline. Instead of finding him for six, Jones quickly moved off his read, perhaps as pressure was coming up the middle. Either way, Jones had plenty of time to stand in and make the play on what needs to be a touchdown.

Another shot the Patriots had downfield came on the trick double-pass. The Jets defender loses wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who again has an easy walk-in touchdown. Instead of lofting a floater to the end zone, Jones takes the checkdown to Smith for 19 yards. The Patriots can't be too upset as they still received a positive play, but missing opportunities for six points will hurt them against stronger competition.

Jones said on Wednesday that there are times after watching film that he wishes he launched one deep, but it is his job as well to “take what [the defense gives] me.” We’ll see if he starts to take more of those shots like he did in Alabama.

@GolfTravelerJoe Is anyone else still alarmed by the run defense?

One of the biggest issues for New England last season has hindered them again to start this year. The Jets ran for 152 yards at 4.9 yards per carry against the Patriots on Sunday in a shaky performance from the defensive line. Many of the issues for New England seemed to be along the interior line — a unit they completely overhauled this offseason. Davon Godchaux and rookie Christian Barmore struggled to string together consistent plays, allowing the Jets’ running backs to have consistent cutback lanes.

Perhaps with more time to work together, the interior defensive line will start to play better together — something Lawrence Guy noted Wednesday needs to happen. The unit needs to be better against New Orleans in Week 3, as Alvin Kamara is one of the premier running backs in the NFL. If the Saints view the Patriots’ defensive line as a weakness, Kamara should be heavily involved early and often.

@aqua_paris #PostPulpit Do you think we gonna beat the Saints next week

Even with the daunting task of having to deal with Kamara, the Patriots should be able to handle New Orleans, in my opinion. The Saints looked like a completely different team last week against the Panthers, as their aggressive front seven made life difficult for Winston under center.

Carolina’s constant pressure forced Winston into two interceptions as Jameis recklessly threw the ball around like the Jameis we all know. The Panthers also recorded four sacks while limiting the Saints to just six first downs. If New England can replicate a similar strategy to get the quarterback off his spot, they should have success against the Saints’ offense.

@JimSnow86 Was trading Sony really a good idea? We see that Damien Harris is a more than capable lead back. But unless I see Bill playing Stevenson a lot more, I don’t see how getting rid of Sony was a wise decision.

At the time of the trade, there were no issues dealing Sony Michel with a loaded backfield. It’s not ideal that Rhamondre Stevenson spent his rookie debut on the bench after fumbling and getting blown up in pass protection, but New England still has a deep and talented backfield. With Damien Harris and James White starting off 2021 extremely strong, J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden and eventually Stevenson is more than enough.

@VicariouslyP #Postpulpit Who got yelled at more after Harris’s touchdown run, Mac Jones for putting himself in danger or Shaq Mason for his push and fall after Harris was already across the goaline?

I would go with Jones here. It’s great to see how competitive the rookie is in a situation like this, but it’s not worth getting hurt over. As Harris said postgame, “Hope he never does it again. We need him.”

@Kid_Allah Do you think Michael Thomas or Odell could be traded for

Considering both receivers are currently injured, it would be unlikely to see New England bring in either player. New England also just has over $3 million left in cap space, making it extremely difficult to acquire Odell Beckham Jr. Michael Thomas would be a much better fit financially, but is currently on the PUP and Covid-19 lists. Highly unlikely for both.

@JakeHags11 Opponent outside of buccaneers you’re most looking forward to in next month? I’m excited for saints

Outside of the Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, the only really intriguing matchup in the next month is the Dallas Cowboys — sandwiched between games against the Houston Texans and Jets. If Dallas’ offense is fully healthy in their Week 6 matchup, it will be a great test for the Patriots’ secondary.

@IamDadSerious Do you think Brady will retire a Patriot?

Despite winning (at least) one Super Bowl in Tampa, I still think a one-day contract with New England is in Tom Brady’s future. It seems like a move that Robert Kraft would like to do. The real question is how the team honors Brady in the Week 4 matchup. Time will tell.

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!