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Patriots are searching for balance in their downfield passing attack

Related: Mac Jones seeking second opinion on sprained ankle from Brooklyn Nets’ team doctor

Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s been an interesting change in philosophy from New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones in Year 1 compared to Year 2. After spending much of his rookie season in conservative mode, Jones is letting in fly this season.

Through three games, his average depth of target has increased from 8.3 yards to 10.4 (fourth highest in the NFL), while his percentage of throws that travel more than 20 yards has also increased form 11.1 percent to 20.6 percent (second).

Speaking with reporters via Zoom on Tuesday, offensive play-caller Matt Patricia made it known the change in approach was by design.

“Mac coming out of college, he had some big plays downfield,” Patricia said. “He had some receivers that could get down field and he could get the ball out to them and throw some really accurate passes in those situations where you have opportunity for big plays. Certainly for us, as we looked at it through the spring and trying to work through training camp that’s been something we’re trying to do.

The strategy is strong in theory. After an ultra-conservative rookie season, pushing the ball downfield is necessary for New England’s offense if they hope to take the next step.

The early returns have been there as well, as the Patriots offense produced several big gains through the air against Baltimore.

“Explosive plays are always good and I think a lot of the really good teams in the NFL make explosive plays,” Jones told reporters on Monday. “Being able to do that and also hold on to the ball, have a fine line between the two I think is really important. Explosive plays are good plays and we want more of those.”

Walking that line has been a struggle, however. The added risk that comes with Jones’ added aggressiveness has been apparent, especially after three interceptions on Sunday against Baltimore.

Through three games, Jones has tossed five interceptions — all of which coming on throws over 10 yards in the air. According to Pro Football Focus, his turnover-worthy play rate sits at 5.1 percent, nearly double his number from his rookie season (2.5 percent).

While the increased aggressiveness is a plus for the Patriots offense, the need for balance is still needed. At times, Jones has to know when to take the easy completion instead of locking onto a target down the field.

Against Baltimore on Sunday, Jones attempted an early shot down field to DeVante Parker, which was broken up by safety Marcus Williams. While it was a strong ball, Jones missed an open Kendrick Bourne running across the middle of the field for an easy completion and first down.

“Balance is always a good word for us as we try to do both,” Patricia added. “We had some success last week being able to do that, which is good, but it still has to stay balanced across the board, it just can’t be one thing. We’ll continue to push for that balance as we go.”

With Jones now nursing a severe high-ankle sprain, the Patriots will have to wait to get their signal caller back under center. When he does, they must strive to find a more balanced attack that can strike explosive plays while still limiting the amount of turnovers.