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Matt Patricia gives insight into the play-calling for Patriots quarterbacks Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe

Related: Patriots film review: Dissecting Mac Jones’ performance against the Bears

New England Patriots v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The New England Patriots have started three different players at the quarterback position this season, with two of them sharing the bulk of snaps. Mac Jones has played 209 over his four games, with Bailey Zappe chipping in 207.

Despite them virtually playing the same number of snaps, their time on the field has looked markedly different. Jones has struggled this season, completing 65 percent of his passes for 799 yards as well as two touchdowns and six interceptions. Zappe, on the other hand, has been successful on 70.7 percent of his throws for 781 yards, five scores and three picks.

What is the reason behind the fourth-round rookie seemingly outplaying the second-year starter? An apparent difference in play-calling is a popular answer to that question.

While there are no acts of “sabotage”, as has been alluded to by certain members of the media, the plays called for Jones did look different than those run by Zappe.

With Jones, the Patriots relied on spread formations out of shotgun with little play-action added to the mix. Zappe, meanwhile, saw a higher number of both under-center looks and play-action calls — looking a lot more comfortable in this style of offense than Jones in the one he is running.

According to the man sending in the plays, however, those differences have little to do with the player on the field but rather the opponent on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

“I think that it’s more based on our game plans for those weeks,” said Patriots assistant coach Matt Patricia on Friday. “Certainly a little bit different game-planning earlier, whether it was Cleveland or whatever it was versus now obviously for the Jets, which is completely different based on defensively what they do.

“I’d say from an offensive standpoint, most of our stuff is built universally for all the quarterbacks and what we think is best for that game more so than a particular quarterback, if that would make sense.”

Over the first three weeks of the season, before Jones suffered a high ankle sprain against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots went up against three below-average pass defenses in expected points added per play. Following a rough outing against Miami on opening day, Jones and the unit showed some improvements in Weeks 2 and 3; the biggest issue for the offense was not play selection but turnovers.

During Zappe’s tenure as starter in Weeks 5 and 6, meanwhile, New England faced the two worst run defenses in the league at that point in time. The team relied heavily on the run in both contests, and on play-action concepts feeding off of it.

The play-action numbers speak for themselves and are a reflection of the opponents the Patriots went up against over the first six weeks of the season. A mere 10.8 percent of Jones’ dropbacks against Miami, Pittsburgh and Baltimore fell into that category, compared to Zappe’s 31.6 percent when he was on the field.

When they shared the field against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, however, play-action played only a minor role for both: Jones and Zappe each had two play-action calls in the 33-14 loss.

The main difference in that game was Jones continuing his tendency to attack downfield whereas Zappe ran several quick-read plays meant to get the ball out of his hands quickly after taking over on the fourth drive.

According to Patricia, he and Jones spoke about finding a balance between those two approaches.

“We had a conversation about how being balanced and all that helps a quarterback and gives the defense different looks and things like that,” Patricia said on Friday.

“With the plays themselves, they’re all designed with different intentions and some of them have multiple levels of reads that go into each play. A lot of times we’re trying to take the profit. If it’s a situation where we can just take what’s given to us, which is good in general, or sometimes we have to push it, the situation will dictate when we have to get the ball downfield or maybe we have a matchup we like.”