Mac Jones a Mixed Bag on Downfield Throws
The Patriots’ downfield passing game has been a mixed bag over the past two weeks. Mac Jones is 0-10 on deep throws (20+ air yards), which is just not an acceptable figure. Jones also hasn’t recorded a big-time throw after having four against the Eagles.
The weather in Metlife more than likely played a factor, and Demario Douglas looked like he was interfered with twice without a flag, but the offense has looked out of sync on these throws all season. This has led to several missed opportunities and really cost New England on 3rd downs yesterday. I think there’s potential for improvement given Douglas’ speed, Kendrick Bourne’s proficiency on double moves, and DeVante Parker’s jump-ball ability (which we haven’t seen exploited yet this season), and next week’s matchup at AT&T Stadium will be a great test with the elements not being a factor.
While the deep passing attack has yet to take off, Jones has been outstanding on his bread-and-butter intermediate throws (10-19 air yards).
The quarterback went 5-6 for 125 yards and a touchdown on these attempts against the Jets, showing exceptional anticipation and ball placement while switching up his pitch based on the coverage. The touchdown came on a 58-yard catch and run off of play action, a play that Jones said New England knew would work heading into the matchup. Besides that big play, all four of Jones’ other intermediate completions went for conversions on 3rd down, a stark contrast to his failures going long in these situations.
Scrapping the deep passing game is obviously not a solution, as it would make the offense more predictable and even less of a big-play threat. But until New England proves it can capitalize on chances when they present themselves, leaning more on intermediate passes might be in the offense’s best interest.
Offensive Line Takes a Step in the Right Direction
The Patriots’ offensive line has been plagued by injuries going all the way back to the summer. The team had to start two rookies at guard in Week 1, lost Trent Brown to a concussion in Week 2, and had issues at right tackle with Calvin Anderson (who spent all of training camp on NFI) struggling. Mac Jones boasted one of the league’s highest pressure rates despite having one of its fastest average times to throw, and the ground game was almost a complete non-factor. Very few offenses can get by with poor line play, and New England was no exception through two weeks.
Fortunately, things started looking up against the Jets, with the Patriots’ four entrenched starters all active for the first time this season and a fresh face at right tackle. The difference was noticeable, particularly with Brown back in the lineup.
The left tackle returned from concussion protocol and had a stellar performance, allowing zero pressure and being a force as a run blocker. Brown wasn’t the only player with a clean day in protection, with David Andrews also pitching a shutout.
David Andrews mentioned after the game that he was proud of the line’s ability to generate push, handle movement from a stunt-heavy Jets front, and make blocks at the second level. The veteran center accomplished all of these feats throughout the game, including some impressive second-level blocks.
Mike Onwenu seems to be working his way back to full strength after offseason ankle surgery, but he got movement in the run game and gave up just one hit on a well-executed twist against All-Pro Quinnen Williams.
Williams spent most of his pass rush snaps against Cole Strange, who performed admirably 1-on-1 but was walked back at times.
Vederian Lowe had a tough time blocking New York’s stable of edge rushers, often getting his hands swiped while attempting to strike or being put on skates. While I’m not sure how much of an upgrade Lowe will be in pass protection, he did have some standout blocks and looked comfortable at the second level.
Though he’s not a lineman, tight-end Pharaoh Brown had a significant impact on the Patriots’ run game.
Not only did Brown serve as the offense’s primary in-line blocker, but New England also lined him up in the backfield to expand play-call possibilities. His nasty demeanor and ability to generate movement popped, and I hope to see a similarly significant role for the veteran moving forward.
New England’s line didn’t post a perfect performance, but it was undeniably impressive, holding a deep Jet front to zero sacks and four hits while running for 157 yards.
Things won’t get any easier against Micah Parsons and a loaded Cowboys defense, but Sunday’s effort was the Patriots’ best of the season and could finally give them the continuity the unit has desperately needed for months.
Complimentary Defense Grounds Jets Offense (with some help from Zach Wilson)
Zach Wilson was under fire all game against the Patriots, being pressured on 47.6% of dropbacks and taking three sacks while being hit four times. Wilson’s subpar anticipation and apparent fear of throwing downfield helped boost the defense’s numbers, but there were also several moments of complimentary play.
Bill Belichick directly credited Myles Bryant, who played outside corner in place of Jonathan Jones, with taking away some of Wilson’s first reads and helping the pass rush get home. The much-maligned cornerback has had a strong season through three weeks, and it’s cool seeing him get that recognition publically.
Christian Gonzalez also continued his hot streak against elite receivers, providing consistently tight coverage against Garrett Wilson.
Gonzalez didn’t shadow last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year the whole game, but reps where the two squared off typically ended with Gonzalez getting the upper hand.
There were also times when the rush got home so quickly that routes didn’t have a chance to properly develop. The safety Matt Judon forced late in the 4th quarter was a prime example of this.
Stout run defense on early downs played a major factor in the Patriots being able to pin their ears back and attack Wilson.
Unlike most weeks, where New England uses Marte Mapu as a Swiss Army knife against two-receiver sets, we saw them deploy a true 3-4 defense featuring Anfernee Jennings and Sam Roberts in their season debuts.
The Jets averaged fewer than two yards per carry against these looks, reflecting how well the Patriots condensed space and tackled in rainy conditions. Expectations were high for the defense entering this matchup, and aside from one 4th quarter scoring drive, they lived up to the hype.
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