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#PostPulpit Mailbag: How can Mac Jones get back on track?

This week’s Patriots mailbag answers questions about Mac Jones, the rookie’s playing time, J.C. Jackson’s return, and more.

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

Halloween came early for Mac Jones last Sunday, as the quarterback was nothing but spooked against the Dallas Cowboys in a 38-3 trouncing.

The New England Patriots offense actually had a promising opening on their initial drive, with a 14-yard play-action drive starter to Hunter Henry and an out of structure pass from Jones downfield to Demario Douglas.

Things then quickly went south, with the first signs being on the opening drive third-and-one where Jones’ pass fell incomplete to Mike Gesicki in the end zone.

Jones’ first read on this play is Henry coming across the formation in motion and releasing to the flat. It’s not there and Jones moved on to his No. 2 read which is DeVante Parker on the short crosser. That route is open for a score, but Jones quickly moves off of him before he even hits the top of his drop and then lobs one to the end zone. He does that as he’s floating backwards.

After a strong start, it was the first sign of things unraveling for Jones. The rest of the game featured poor decision-making (throws across the field), continued bad footwork (pass below to Parker), bailing from clean pockets (pick-six below), and plenty of other issues in what offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien described as an “uncharacteristic” game from his QB.

“Some of the decisions that he made were very uncharacteristic of Mac,” O’Brien told reporters Tuesday. “He’s just trying to make a play, he’s wanting to win, he’s very competitive. I think you’ll see a lot of improvement in Mac as we keep moving forward here.”

Improvement with Mac starts will obviously start with better decision-making, but as well as better footwork —-which began to be a concern at the end of last season. To be a successful passer, Jones must be able to throw from a sturdy base, yet he often fails to reset in the pocket (often falling backwards or fading away as seen above). He must improve in the “phone booth” — as Tom Brady use to call it — to avoid rushers, find space in the pocket, reset his feet, and hit his receivers.

“For me, it’s always trying to add it in, whether it’s after my workouts or whatever on the field, to definitely hit it every day,” Jones said Wednesday when asked how he sharpens his mechanics.

“But really just try to do more and be consistent. Like, one day, you can’t miss footwork drills or what not. So, we’ve talked about it, and things that we can do better. Just, getting the reps of the footwork and the timing, and applying it to the game is the important part.”

Beyond focusing on his fundamentals, Jones now turns his attention to this weekend’s matchup against the Saints, where all eyes will be on how the QB bounces back from a career-worst game.

With that, let’s jump into the rest of this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@LordSavageODark How serious is Jc Jackson’s knee?

In a positive note, the Patriots made a trade to bring back J.C. Jackson on Wednesday. While this won't fix all of their issues, New England was desperate for cornerback help with Christian Gonzalez out for the year and the three Joneses still battling injuries. It only helps that they add a guy who they are familiar with and has had success in their scheme.

As for Jackson, his struggles in LA were clear but part of that appeared to be usage. The Chargers believed they were getting a shutdown No. 1 cornerback in the Darrelle Revis mold, when that isn't Jackson’s game. Jackson is more of a playmaker at the position, which this defense could use as they have just two turnover this season.

Now injuries is the big thing, as he suffered a season-ending ruptured patellar tendon in Week 7 of last season. Over a week ago he admitted he was still not “100 percent” but has seemed ready to play despite being inactive the past two weeks. He was also not listed on New England’s injury report on Thursday.

Time will tell, but it’s a worthwhile investment for the cheap return and a contract they can move on from for free after the season.

@thekid55875164 Onwenu to RT Reiff RG Mapu lb White DE Douglas WR How about putting your players in the positions they can help the team the most

Before we get to the offensive line, the Patriots are in a position where they should absolutely be playing the rookies. It was nice to see Marte Mapu play a career-high in defensive snaps last week and he should continue to play more-and-more even if there are growing pains (a good test awaits against Alvin Kamara this week).

Same goes for Douglas (who we’ll talk about more in a second) and White — especially for the latter with Matthew Judon out. White should be the main replacement for Judon along the edge. While Trey Flowers can provide some depth, the veteran out-snapping the rookie would just be a poor decision.

Onto the offensive line, they seem set on not bumping Michael Onwenu back out to tackle. He’ll be at guard, now they just need him to look like his usual self.

As for Reiff, the veteran returned to practice on Wednesday as he remains on the IR. While he lasted just a few days at right tackle in training camp before bumping inside, its worth a shot trying him back at the tackle spot with Vederian Lowe’s struggles. Reiff can't be much worse and at least should make a positive impact in the run game.

@therealjeffjm Why isn’t Pop Douglas being used more?

As for Pop Douglas, we have been clamoring for more of the rookie since Week 1. He’s their most dynamic route runner and this team needs someone who can consistently win against man coverage and create after the catch.

“Pop continues to show off up with his speed and quickness and has the ability to create some space, especially in man coverage,” Bill Belichick said on WEEI on Monday.

Against Dallas, Douglas played the least amount of snaps (18) out of any Patriots skill position player outside of Ty Montgomery (who also should play more). While it was encouraging to see Douglas start to get more snaps than JuJu Smith-Schuster in three receiver sets, he needs to still play more period.

His long catch and run on the first drive of the game might hint at why he isn't playing more. Despite making the big play, Douglas appears to cut in front of the defender instead of going over. It results in him colliding with DeVante Parker on top of the Dallas star.

But, due to his skillset and playmaking ability, the Patriots should once again live through the growing pains. Especially as some of the veteran options have not been sharp in terms of details either.

Like on this third-and-14, New England has the conversion but Smith-Schuster stops his route one-yard short of the sticks. That brings up a fourth-down situation where Jones fails a QB sneak and the Patriots fell off the rails from there.

@oooidkjiiim What are your thoughts on Chad Ryland so far? Just a rough start to the season like many others on the team or cause for serious concern?

Ryland has missed three-out-of-seven kicks to start his career, but no major concern on this end. To start, two of those missed kicks happened from distance in a sloppy MetLife field and both featured high snaps. Bill Belichick noted after the game that the operation was poor and that Ryland hit the ball “pretty well.”

It was nice to see him bounce back in that game and connect on a 51 yarder, then finally get a chip shot attempt (29 yards) against Dallas. If he starts to miss consistently on those under-40 attempts, that is when the concern would rise.

@yungmacedgod Is there any front office in particular you’d want to emulate for the inevitable rebuild? Obviously we want great talent evaluation at the most important positions, so should the Kraft’s try to poach people from Dallas’ Front Office?

If the Patriots do hypothetically move on from Bill Belichick, handing the personnel decisions over to Matt Groh (Director of Player Personnel) and Camren Williams (Director of College Scouting) would be my top choice. The belief here is that that duo is more in line with modern day team building philosophies, so it would be interesting to see how things would change if they had full control.

@StephenGWhite2 I think they need to tank. Am I wrong?

This team will never tank. I get the idea of it from a big picture point of view, but Bill Belichick and his staff and the players on this team are not just going to roll over and quit. The coaches are fighting for their own job security and the players don't care about a future draft pick and try to put good film out there for future work. It’s not happening.

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.