The New England Patriots got back to .500 after a road victory against the New York Jets, but all eyes remain on quarterback Mac Jones and his future in New England.
We’ll break it down and a lot more in this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.
@kjbuys13 Why is Mac blind all of a sudden
Let’s start this week with the man under the microscope: Mac Jones. After watching Sunday’s game live, I thought Jones was bad. Rewatching the game, I upped my grade to perhaps a borderline C-. He was fine through the air and made some things happen with his legs.
The Patriots primarily worked the short and intermediate areas of the field against New York, a smart approach against a talented defense that does a strong job limiting explosive plays with lots of two-high looks. It was also an approach that made sense for Jones, allowing him to hit some of the easy bread-and-butter throws that haven't been made available to him to begin this season.
Mac had several good quarterbacking plays on third down against New York. The clip below was one of his better passes this season:
With Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers both running in-breaking routes across the middle, Jones reads C.J. Mosley as he buzzes back into coverage. Instead of taking away Meyers underneath, Mosley stays put to take away Bourne. Jones reads it and leads Meyers away from him for a first down.
After stressing to “take the profit” several times this week, the third-down play below was a strong job by Jones to do so. As the Jets ‘Cover 2 look takes away the flood route combination on the outside, Jones simply finds his check down in Jonnu Smith who picks up the first down.
Now, we are not banging the drum that it was a perfect game from Mac. It was fine, maybe even a little less than fine. He still missed some reads and looked extra antsy in the pocket from time to time. In total, New England’s offense mustered just 288 yards and had nine points gift wrapped to them by the defense (they didn’t record a first down on three scoring drives).
There’s room for improvement, but Jones did help New England win the game Sunday — something Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia, and Joe Judge proclaimed afterwards.
@Not_Simple_ What is the best reason for the Mac step-back: 1) sophomore slump 2) bad offensive line 3) we need a QB like Zappe to deliver the ball to all the talented, expensive offensive weapons we got just last year?
There’s been a lot working against Mac Jones in his sophomore season. While he certainly deserves some of the blame, everything from the offensive line, to his weapons, to his coaching staff have made things more difficult for him.
New England needs to reevaluate a lot of things as they enter the all-important Year 3 with Jones, which is an extremely important year as the fifth-year option looms in the background. The pattern in this league has been going all-in with quarterbacks entering their third season (more on this below), and the Patriots are flushed with cap space next offseason in order to do so.
The plan entering the offseason is easy: make life easier for Mac Jones in almost every department. Fix the offensive line, get him a legit No. 1 weapon, and figure out his coordinator. Then let’s see how Jones looks.
@TheOthe74569582 Who should the Pats look to trade for next season to elevate the offense. I’d love to pair Kobi with a true #1.
As the Patriots enter that all-important year three with Mac Jones, acquiring that go-to guy at wide receiver is one of the most important moves. The evidence is all over the league. The Bills got Stefon Diggs, the Dolphins got Tyreek Hill, the Eagles got A.J. Brown. The Bengals didn't even wait until Year 3 as they drafted Ja’Marr Chase in Joe Burrow’s second season.
The effects those receivers have made on their respective teams are massive. Diggs’ role in Buffalo’s rise to the top of the league is extremely under-appreciated. Tyreek Hill, along with Jaylen Waddle, Mike McDaniel, and Terron Armstead, have elevated Tua Tagovailoa to a quarterback who currently ranks No. 1 in the league in terms of EPA/dropback. The Eagles are undefeated with Brown while Jalen Hurts is a top-five MVP candidate. The Bengals then went to the Super Bowl with Chase last season (and looked mighty bad without him last Monday night against the Browns).
In New England, Jakobi Meyers is obviously a great receiver, but he is not on the level of any of the names above. Last offseason’s plan of DeVante Parker was never going to be the solve-all answer, while the jury is still out on Tyquan Thornton.
Bringing in that guy to this offense will make a huge difference for the Patriots. And those guys always become available, more than not those who are about to enter their final year or two of their rookie contract. Exploring players under that category, the clear two names are Justin Jefferson and Jerry Jeudy.
Jefferson would be a pipe dream if he somehow becomes disgruntled in Minnesota. He is one of the premiere receivers in football and is everything the Patriots want in a wide out. He’d be worth the draft capital and money it’d take to somehow acquire him.
While Jefferson would be absolute dream, Jeudy would be an extremely welcomed second option. He’s an exceptional route runner that has struggled to produce in Denver with some not-so great quarterbacks. Jeudy was even rumored to be on the trade block this past trade deadline making him a legit target.
@DoorDashMora CAN WE PLS GET BILL O’BRIEN FOR OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR
The other thing that would need to be done in Year 3 to get Mac Jones back on track is figure out the coaching staff. Again, see what Mike McDaniel has done for Tua. While they have started to take steps forward mixing more of the bread-and-butter throws into the mix and releasing the run-pass option package, the offense as a whole has lacked creativity.
From here on out, we’ll get a clearer picture as to whether Matt Patricia can become a legit NFL coordinator or realize it’s not going work, opening the door for outside help in the offseason. While Bill O’Brien would be a great addition, I would imagine he gets a head coaching job at the collegiate level if he wants it. If he wants to return to the pro level, perhaps then a reunion could be in the works.
It’s tough to predict what will transpire in this department this offseason due to Belichick’s relationship with Matt Patricia. Either way, you’d think some outside help would be a welcome addition to the staff in some way.
@bbbruins63 Who do we start at right tackle?
@ForbesSumner With all the struggles on the O-line, can you see them switching Wynn back to LT and Brown to RT?
@BNusinov Why has pass protection been so porous?
Pass protection continues to be the biggest issue on this New England team, specifically at right tackle. Isaiah Wynn’s struggles have been well-documented, and his first pass-rush set against John Franklin-Meyers on Sunday seemed to summarize his season.
Marcus Cannon, who is now dealing with a concussion, hasn't been the answer either. While he’s strong as a run blocker, Cannon has not been good in pass protection — highlighted by his team-high eight hurries allowed last weekend. He also let Mac Jones get hit on the interception. He’s best as a sixth tackle moving forward.
So, what is the answer going forward? The idea of switching back the tackles seems to be too many moving parts this late into the season. They could also kick out Michael Onwenu to right tackle and try Isaiah Wynn at right guard. While Onwenu has had success at right tackle in the past, the hesitation here is Onwenu has said multiple times this year how helpful it has been for him to stick at one position. Plus, Wynn at right guard would leave the Patriots quite undersized along the interior.
The last real option is to give backup tackle Yodny Cajuste a look. Coming out of West Virginia four years ago, his athleticism in pass protection was one of his biggest strengths. At this point it’s worth seeing what he provides as he can't be much worse than they have. The feeling here is the combination of Wynn/Cajuste will be on the field against Indianapolis at right tackle.
@BostonEvan11 Weekly question asking where the tight ends are
As the Patriots transitioned to throws in the short and intermediate areas of the field against New York, the opportunities were there for the tight ends. Hunter Henry’s lone catch was one of Jones’ best plays from Sunday while Smith hauled in three receptions. Still not production to blow you away, but there was more on the table for them.
Jonnu Smith had a chance for what appeared to be a big catch-and-run on this first-and-10 play-action crosse. Even with extra blockers in the game, there was no chance for Jones to find his tight end.
As for Henry, Jones left a potential touchdown on the table down inside the 10-yard line, eventually forcing a field goal. Henry sits down at the goal line and creates separation at the top of his route. It’s a play he and Jones were money on last season, connecting on touchdowns against Carolina and Indianapolis. But for whatever reason, Jones doesn't trust the throw and takes the sack.
There are plays to be had, just the execution needs to be better all around.
@HunterNuts A. What happened to Raekwon McMillan? He was an off-season darling but has disappeared. B. Can Wynn play RG and kick Onwenu back to his dominant position?
We touched on Wynn/Onwenu above, so we’ll focus on Raekwon McMillan. It’s been an interesting season for the linebacker, who spent the offseason as the top off-ball linebacker next to Ja’Whaun Bentley. He started in that role against Miami but had a rough showing. After playing 42 snaps in Week 1, he played just 12 in Week 2 then suffered an injury that forced him out of Weeks 3 and 4.
Since returning, McMillan has become mostly a special team only player. His defensive snap counts the last four weeks has been 21, 24, 11, and 11. He just hasn't separated himself from the pack in a true linebacker rotation.
@Skywal1Thaddeus Even with other teams in the AFC making big trades, do the Pats still have a chance to compete for the playoffs?
They absolutely do at 4-4, but need to start with a win over Indianapolis this weekend. Not to drop the “it’s a week-to-week” cliche, but it truly is. They’d absolutely have a shot sitting at 5-4 entering the bye.
@Skully_McSkully did Nick Folk sell his soul to the devil to become so automatic?
He must've. It’s the only possible explanation.
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!