There is no way around it: the New England Patriots’ 38-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys was a disasterclass in quarterback play. Mac Jones looked unsettled throughout the day before getting pulled in the late third quarter, turning the ball over three times and having several other head-scratching plays.
Afterwards, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien labeled the performance as “uncharacteristic” of the young quarterback — a point of view shared by former NFL QB J.T. O’Sullivan. Analyzing Jones’ performance on his The QB School YouTube channel, he also came to the conclusion that the game was a surprising regression for Jones.
“It will be fascinating to see how he bounces from this,” O’Sullivan said, “because I don’t think there’s been anything up to this point that would point to a performance like this.”
The entire 38-minute analysis is worth taking a closer look at because it paints a harsh picture of a quarterback coming off a solid three-game stretch. It also shows that the problem Jones and the Patriots faced in Week 4 is a complex one that goes beyond just his disappointing individual performance.
The play design did not help at times, and neither did the depth of routes run at certain situations. The Cowboys having a potent pass rush led by Micah Parsons collapse the pocket on multiple occasions also did not help.
The biggest culprit, however, was Jones himself.
For O’Sullivan, the first cracks in the armor were visible to end the opening drive. On a 3rd-and-1 in the deep red zone, Jones misfired for tight end Mike Gesicki. While doing so, he appeared to speed-run through his reads while also showing some messy footwork.
“Mac Jones just plays it a little fast,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s going fast for him, right now. And then his feet let him down, he starts backing up, and we miss the throw a little bit.”
Jones rushing through his reads and completely dismantling his technique along the way — seemingly spooked by the Cowboys’ pressure — only got worse as the game progressed. The footwork in particular deteriorated from the first series on.
“Everything feels like it’s going in the wrong direction, footwork-wise. And it’s just weird from a guy I consider more polished than that,” O’Sullivan explained.
“I think the easiest and cleanest way to say it is it just looks totally unsettled. It’s shockingly unpolished. ... It’s not how you see anybody who plays quarterback in this league — starter, backup, on a roster — look like. That is not it. This is regression, and it’s happening real-time in this game because it only gets worse.”
The bad footwork were one of several problems plaguing Jones. His decision making was no better — whether it was the aforementioned skipping of reads, not opting to go for check-downs, escaping the pocket and taking unnecessary risks, or simply not seeing things.
“Disaster. Can’s sugarcoat it, can’t put it any other way,” O’Sullivan summed up. “There were some nice throws in there, but overall that state of play is not good enough at any level. And I think it really starts and stops with the pocket presence and the footwork, kind of tethered together. It looked like things were just going fast — which is a little weird for a guy that is quote-on-quote a processor.
“The footwork, I think the easiest way to describe it and maybe the most concise way is just unsettled. Not only are we moving backwards, but we’re kind of jumping. Everything is bouncing, nothing feels firm in the ground. The base part of it was completely loose, cracked, and just really in disarray. And that really allowed him to just struggle and then continue to struggle, and then we made it even worse by not even giving things time to develop and just taking off. Things you just don’t see very often — if ever — on Sundays.”
So, is there a silver lining? There better be.
“Performances like this usually don’t allow people to continue to play very often, that’s just the truth of it,” the former NFL passer said. “So, maybe he comes back and it’s just a one-off and it is what it is, and we put it in the vault and don’t have to worry about it again. But we have to get it solved immediately, like yesterday at practice. Immediately.
“It’s just one of the things were you grind through the tape, acknowledge it is what it is. It’s not good enough. It’s fixable, hopefully, and then we go from there.”