Things are dark at One Patriot Place. The New England Patriots have been outscored 72-3 in the last two weeks and there offense has not scored a touchdown in their last 34 possessions.
And for those into the analytics, New England’s offense now ranks dead last in points scored, EPA per play, EPA per drop-back, and EPA per rushing attempt. Not great.
But at 1-4, the show goes on. For the Patriots, that meant hitting the reset button this week. So with that, let’s get into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.
@Fkbullalrt Why does everyone blame Mac when the problem starts with the O line? If plays don’t even have time to develop because they can’t block how is it his fault?
Two things can be true: the situation Mac Jones is in is terrible, and he’s also making it worse.
First off, it’s extremely difficult to play quarterback for the Patriots currently. The wide receivers can't get open and the offensive line can't block. While the separation statistic has it’s flaws, New England’s receiver’s are still dead last and struggle to get open against man coverage. As for the line, they rank either last or just slightly above the New York Giants in any pass block metric you look at. Also not great.
But, Mac Jones is also not playing good football. His footwork — issues which stem from last year — has not been good and his internal clock is nonexistent. Even when he gets clean pockets, he is quickly bailing or rushing through his progressions, resulting in him ranking last in the NFL in clean pocket EPA.
How often and well QBs perform from a clean pocket updated through Week 5.— Jrfortgang (@throwthedamball) October 10, 2023
Excludes rollouts+scrambles+ plays where pocket is closing or tight. pic.twitter.com/SyacXUbZjn
We highlighted several of those instances last week from the Dallas game and some of Jones’ negative trends continued against the Saints. Even before the pick-six, Jones was quickly bailing from open pockets. On the play below, he has Henry working across the middle of the field, but the lack of trust with his protection leads to happy feet which results in a ball hitting the turf to Stevenson.
Then on the pick-six itself, New England appears to get the look they want with O’Brien motioning Henry into a stack alignment. With New Orleans in man, Henry is open as Jones hits the top of his drop. The pocket is not as clean in this instance, but a play appears to be had to his tight end until Jones decides to hold the ball and step up to try to connect with Kendrick Bourne.
So, while the situation around Jones is dire, the QB himself is seeing ghosts out there. He additionally had some issues with his footwork, where he appeared to fail to step into throws (perhaps contributing to his second interception to Ty Montgomery). And unfortunately for Jones, this isn't something one can usually correct during the season. If these trends continue in Vegas, New England may finally be forced to look elsewhere.
What is the deal with JuJu? - Chris F.
One of Jones’ biggest lack of helpers has been JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has recorded just 14 catches for 86 yards through three games this season. Smith-Schuster was added with the thought that he would bring a yards after the catch element to the offense, but instead ranks dead last in the league in YAC over expected due to plays below.
The Patriots correctly identify the cornerback blitz above as Parker and JuJu can be seen pointing at the corner pre-snap. Jones then throws into the blitz with leaves Smith-Schuster with one man to beat, who is roughly 10 yards away when he catches the screen. The play results in two yards. Can't happen.
And while it’s tough to actually say he’s in the wrong when we are not in the meetings, some of Smith-Schuster’s routes have appeared questionable. New England is running an O’Brien staple below in Hoss Juke and get the matchup they're looking for with JuJu (slot) running the juke route against linebacker in man-to-man. Despite the linebacker appearing to play with inside leverage, Smith-Schuster breaks inside which results in just a one-yard gain.
The early struggles and lack of consistency from Smith-Schuster — and New England’s other wideouts — has been a big part of the offensive issues. Jones can often be seen hesitating in the pocket, which could be due to the lack of details in certain routes. The quarterback also mentioned on Wednesday that he needs to do a better job of communicating with receivers in that area.
While Smith-Schuster is now sidelined with a concussion, it’s time to play the younger options even when he returns. That includes Demario Douglas when he returns from his head injury, as well as Kayshon Boutte and Tyquan Thornton.
@CalebABobo How should we think about Cole Strange’s career so far? Is he a bust or do we just need to wait for him to get healthy to judge?
@genx_dave Is Cole Strange trying to play through a torn meniscus? Like Logan Mankins did one season.
First off, Mankins played through the year with a torn ACL — can't undersell that. As for Strange, his initial injury in the summer was not a torn meniscus, but it's unclear if what he was dealing with was reaggravated or he suffered a new injury against the Jets.
The long-term worry I have with Strange is in pass protection. While he seemed to have been drafted as an athletic guard for their transition to more of a zone run game, he struggles to anchor in pass pro at just 310 pounds. It was even worse now that he’s been dealing with a knee injury.
Hopefully Strange can get healthy and lock down one of New England’s guard spots this season, but if not it would be interesting to see if they tinker with a potential position change in the offseason.
@brendan_o Trade targets if NE decides not to throw in the towel. Mecole Hardman, Jeudy? More OL help?
Unfortunately, other teams around the league are battling offensive line depth issues like the Patriots. There just aren't many upgrades out there that are available.
As for receivers, Jerry Jeudy is an interesting case. I understand a move like that might appear like the team is “buying,” but New England truthfully just need good players. And at 24 years old, Jeudy would fall into the longer term plans if they extend him past next year’s fifth-year option.
Now, personally, I have cooled on Jeudy the player since the offseason (and even more since Steve Smith’s comments Thursday night). But, he still is probably more valuable than any fourth-round pick (?) in the draft (especially if they recoup capital by dealing off another piece such as Kendrick Bourne).
Is it time to talk top college QBs? Who are the best options? - Alex
Let’s talk some draft! That is where we are at this point.
As for quarterbacks, reigning Heisman trophy winner Caleb Williams is the favorite to be the first player off the board and is regarded as one of the best prospects in recent years. To me, it still seems unlikely New England completely bottoms out to have a shot.
UNC’s Drake Maye is the consensus No. 2 QB, with some even ranking him above Williams. I am a big fan of Maye, as he’s got a strong arm, is accurate with plus ball placement, and offers athleticism to create out of structure. If New England’s draft selection falls within range, he would be my target to move up and select.
Any way here’s Drake Maye firing a laser over the middle yesterday pic.twitter.com/qH2wVfH4qv— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) October 8, 2023
While the top two are set in stone, there will be movement as always behind them. As of now, Oregon’s Bo Nix is largely the consensus third QB with Texas’ Quinn Ewers, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, and Wahsington’s Michael Penix Jr. following. The belief is Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders will return to school.
If you haven't watched any of them yet, this Saturday is a good time to start. A top-10 battle between Nix and Pennix kicks off at 3:30 p.m. EST, while both Williams and Maye take on ranked opponents at 7:30 p.m. EST.
@Skywal1Thaddeus Could Brock Bowers be a possible pick for us in the 1st round?
Brock Bowers is an awesome player for the Georgia Bulldogs and should be a top-10 pick. However if I’m the Patriots and picking in the top-10, it can't be used on a tight end. They need to walk away with either the top QB, WR, or OT on their board.
@zach_d68 Is there any purpose in winning any more games this season? Seems like we are in a position where we need as much offensive talent as possible, and a top 3 draft pick wouldn’t hurt
From a big picture perspective, bottoming out and getting a chance at a player like Drake Maye is probably the best thing. But, teams cannot full-on tank in the NFL as every player is fighting for job security. Teams could quietly tank and resort to player younger players, etc., but that would likely take place as long as the coaching staff’s jobs are secured. Might not be the case currently in New England.
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.