There is no one individual reason for the New England Patriots’ offensive struggles this season, but quarterback Mac Jones is a popular scapegoat among fans and analysts alike. It is not hard to see why: the former first-round draft pick already was a polarizing prospect entering the NFL, and despite a hot start has since cooled off significantly.
The current three-game stretch is probably the worst of his career. Completing 48 of 76 pass attempts for 460 yards, Jones has thrown no touchdowns and five interceptions while also losing a pair of fumbles — thus greatly contributing to the team’s back-to-back-to-back losses and 1-5 record.
Jones does deserve blame for his play. As former NFL quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan pointed out in a new analysis on his The QB School YouTube channel, however, he also is not receiving plenty of help from his teammates and coaches.
“Whatever it is, it’s disjointed at best,” said O’Sullivan in his breakdown of Jones’ game against the Las Vegas Raiders. “It’s got to be frustrating for everyone involved.”
Jones himself has had his fair share of issues in the 21-17 loss to the Raiders. His footwork and accuracy were inconsistent again, while his reads also appeared curious (such as on a 3rd-and-5 incompletion intended for DeVante Parker).
What the must-watch 28-minute video also shows, however, is that that the issues go far beyond bad quarterback play. An incomplete pass intended for tight end Hunter Henry was one example: the tight end ran a route on a 3rd-and-7 not suited to his particular skillset well short of the sticks.
“Trying to make sense of what they’re asking Mac Jones to do,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m not saying Mac Jones is playing well. I’m not, because he’s not. But I’m also saying that a lot of these schemes are not giving him a great opportunity to be successful, because even if they complete these balls it’s not looking good.”
Unclear concepts and route combinations, an unnecessary use of play-action, and a lack of run-pass option plays (RPOs) were all identified as issues holding the Patriots offense back. Add Jones not playing good or confident football right now, and that his supporting cast is also underwhelming, and you get a recipe for disaster.
And even when Jones is making good throws and reads, such as on a deep pass to DeVante Parker late in the game, the team’s supposed playmakers fail him.
“Mac Jones specifically is not getting any help,” said O’Sullivan. “He’s not playing well either, I think that’s the other thing that’s a little bit surprising to me just as far as some of his spray radius, as far as some of these misses. But when he gets opportunities they are kind of in short burst instances when you can see the decisiveness, you can see the vision, you can see him make good decisions quickly. It just feels like they don’t put him in a lot of those situations.
“And when you combine that with a lot of penalties, with throwing a lot of quick outs, with a lot of nothing-burger plays or hard-to-make-sense-of concepts or concepts that are married together, it’s going to be tough to move the ball when you maybe don’t have any dynamic weapons on the perimeter. And, they’re not even helping you when you do throw the ball accurately down the field. All those things together make it really hard to play offense.”
Now at 1-5, the question becomes what the Patriots can do to get back on track. Bill O’Brien himself hinted at more up-tempo work, something the team did relatively well earlier in the year.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, would like to see more spread formations to allow Jones to get the ball out quickly while trusting his vision. A reintroduction of RPOs also is high up on the wish list.
“I don’t know what necessarily the answer is other than the fact that — yes — Mac Jones can, and I think will play better. But how much better with that surrounding cast can he play? With what they’re asking him to do?” he said. “And that’s not even touching on the idea that they don’t do any RPOs and continue not to do any RPOs, which I would imagine would play to Mac Jones’ strengths.”
“If you were asking me, ‘What are his strengths? Where would we like to see the offense go?’ I’d like to see it get a little bit spready, so he can distribute the ball quicker. Just catch it and get the ball out of his hands. I think it’s one of his strengths. They have to run some RPOs. They have to. And the marriage of how they run the ball with some of those RPOs, and then you can start to build in some of the play-action shots as opposed to just random play-actions where we’re chucking the ball out of bounds or where we’re spray-missing with him getting outside the pocket and creating. That’s just not what he’s going to do consistently.”
For a team priding itself in using its players to their strength, that conclusion is damning: the Patriots appear to not be doing that at the most important position on the field. Obviously, they have information unavailable to those not inside Gillette Stadium, but the decisions still look curious from the outside looking in.
“You have to find ways to play to his strengths better than they have up until this point,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s part of the deal regardless of making excuses who’s on the outside with him. They’ve got to play to his strengths better.”