The New England Patriots left State Farm Stadium back in the AFC playoff picture Monday night. Major question marks still surround the team, though, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
In a reoccurring theme, the Patriots’ offense struggled to move the ball against a Cardinals defense that entered the week ranked 31st in the NFL in points allowed, as there continued to be drive-killing negative plays, penalties, and a lack of imagination.
For the second straight week, frustration was visible with quarterback Mac Jones.
Mac Jones was not stoked about having to take a timeout there. pic.twitter.com/Ei5gnh5zFr— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) December 13, 2022
“At the end of the day, this is an emotional game,” Jones told ESPN. “And I think everybody feeds off emotion. I think at times, we’re too flat, and that’s what I try to do, motivate my guys. They responded really well — the defense, everybody. So, shoutout to everybody on our team for responding and we gotta get to work.”
It was another game plan that heavily leaned on screens and the quick passing attack, as Jones averaged just five air yards per attempt. It was not a major surprise as New England’s struggling offensive line had their hands full against a blitz-happy Cardinals defense. In total, 15 of Jones’ 35 pass attempts came at or behind the line of scrimmage.
“No,” Jones said when asked if he is frustrated with the offense. “Matty P. did a great job. He's trying to call the game so we can win. Sometimes it might be this thing that people don’t know about, like the quick passes for whatever reason, and that’s our game plan. We knew that’s what we had to do to win and he called a great game.”
The Patriots were also without a handful of key offensive skill players (Stevenson, Harris, Parker, Meyers) for the majority of the game, perhaps also playing a hand in the cautionary approach.
“We hit Hunter on a couple of seams. Depends on what the pattern was we had called was and what the coverage was,” Bill Belichick explained. “I thought Mac made a lot of good decisions.”
Jones two shots to Henry down the seams were the highlights on the night for New England offense. The second completion to Henry came on a four vertical play to stress the Cardinals’ cover-three look. Jones looked left before coming back and delivering a strike to Henry for a 39-yard gain to help set-up a game sealing score.
“We did some things better, still got a long way to go,” Belichick said.
A long way to go, indeed. With a final four-game stretch with matchups against the Raiders, Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills, New England will need better offensive performances to stay in the win column and maintain their spot in the Wild Card.