Let’s get the following statement out of the way before we get lost in the film details from Sunday’s game:
If you aren’t ready to crown Mac Jones after five games, fine. Nobody earns a red or gold jacket after five mostly good games as a rookie. But if you aren’t impressed with what Jones is doing to this point, then you are either trolling or trying to be contrarian for the sake of a take.
Make no mistake about it, the Patriots’ coaching staff is impressed with what they see from Jones; his competitive toughness, poise, accuracy, and football IQ won them over already.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said as much about Jones’s accuracy last week, saying, “Mac puts the ball in a place that the receiver can run with it. Overall, I think Mac’s been pretty accurate. The receivers haven’t had to work excessively to make the catch.”
Ultimately, we should be evaluating Jones through the prism of a rookie quarterback in his fifth career start because, after all, he’s a rookie quarterback in his fifth career start.
The chart above reflects where Jones ranks in expected points added (EPA) and completion percentage over expected (CPOE), where he’s above-average in both metrics and finds himself in the top right quadrant (good) while the rest of the rookies are in the bottom left (bad).
To Belichick’s point, the metrics back up Jones’s accuracy with a CPOE that ranks eighth among 33 qualified quarterbacks.
So if you want to be a contrarian, then keep ignoring everything telling you that Jones is operating well in an NFL offense five games into his career. Five. Not 305 like Brady. Five.
Every rookie makes mistakes, and Jones is making rookie mistakes just like the rest of them (more on that later). But he’s also making reads that other guys simply aren’t at this stage.
Now let’s get into the tape so your eyes can see why nobody should discount Jones’s development to date:
1ST QTR, 1:01, 3RD-&-3: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO N. AGHOLOR FOR 11 YARDS
The aDOT police won’t be impressed with this throw from Jones, but it’s a savvy veteran read on third down to move the chains. Houston initially aligned in what looks like man coverage with defenders squaring up the Pats’ receivers. Kendrick Bourne then comes in motion to give Mac a coverage indicator. The Texans exchange responsibilities in the secondary with the outside corner at the bottom of the screen bumping over to take Bourne, giving Jones a pre-snap zone indicator. Mac then holds the second level with a play-action fake and knows he has Nelson Agholor on an in-cut against a bailing cover-three corner with the middle hook defenders out of the passing lane. Jones puts the ball accurately on Agholor to let him shield the catch point and moves the chains. Looks easy, right? But the process from start to finish is very clean.
2ND QTR, 0:57, 2ND-&-10: M. JONES PASS INCOMPLETE DEEP TO J. MEYERS (DROP)
Here’s a good, aggressive downfield shot from Jones. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had this one drawn up all week, a 989 concept against cover-two. The safety in the deep-half to Jones’s left is in conflict; he has two vertical routes coming into his zone and can’t stay over the top of both Meyers and Agholor. Mac sees the deep safety shading towards Agholor with his back to the outside vertical and rips an accurate ball to Meyers. Unfortunately, Meyers drops an easy catch. Still, a good read and throw by the quarterback.
2ND QTR, 0:26, 1ST-&-10: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO J. MEYERS FOR NINE YARDS
This completion shows great awareness from Jones to understand the situation. The Pats are on Houston’s 43-yard line with 26 seconds left in the half. McDaniels calls an all curls concept to get the offense into field goal range, and Jones reads the middle linebacker dropping underneath Henry’s route while the flat defender widens to Bourne’s outside curl. He makes a quick, decisive decision to throw the ball to Meyers and sets Nick Folk up for three.
3RD QTR, 5:48, 1ST-&-10: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO H. HENRY FOR 21 YARDS
One of the standout aspects of Jones’s performance against the Texans was his efficiency off play-action (9-for-11, 11.5 yards per attempt).
In this play, the Pats ran their “Charles Barkley” scheme to influence the second level of the defense to step into their run gaps by pulling the backside guard. The blocking scheme does its job to pull the linebackers out of the passing lane, and Jones does his job by throwing with the perfect amount of touch over the recovering linebacker to lead Henry across the field.
4TH QTR, 12:43, 2ND-&-3: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO H. HENRY FOR TEN YARDS
Another completion that the aDOT police absolutely hated. A six-yard pass? How could you praise a six-yard pass? Well, Jonnu’s motion gives away that it’s zone, Mac forgoes the play-action fake when he sees Zack Cunningham already moving forward at the snap and beats a blitz by hitting Henry in the chest on an anticipatory throw. The fact that this isn’t some miraculous downfield throw aside, it’s just good heads-up football to keep the chains moving.
4TH QTR, 9:36, 3RD-&-6: M. JONES TOUCHDOWN PASS TO H. HENRY FOR 13 YARDS
The Patriots’ rookie also threw his first big-time touchdown pass in the red zone once McDaniels finally allowed Jones to attack the end zone.
The play is designed to hit Jakobi Meyers at the sticks for a first down, but Jones comes off Meyers when he’s covered in the flat, and Henry is winning on his route. With Henry providing an open bucket to the corner, Jones drops it in there with just enough air under it for six.
4TH QTR, 7:15, 1ST-&-10: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO J. MEYERS FOR 24 YARDS
After shredding the Texans on the “Charles Barkley” design, the Patriots hit a chunk play to Meyers mid-way through the fourth quarter by simulating a fullback lead play.
New England gets Houston’s linebackers to come downhill again with fullback Jakob Johnson mimicking a lead block through the hole. This time, Jones gets himself turned back around and hits Meyers in stride on a dig route. Jones doesn’t allow the linebackers enough time to recover underneath Meyers’s route, setting up 11 yards after the catch with timing and ball placement by releasing the ball immediately at the top of his drop.
4TH QTR, 3:58, 3RD-&-6: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO H. HENRY FOR TEN YARDS
On the biggest third down of the game for the Pats offense, Jones proves that he’s not a statue by climbing the pocket to deliver a throw to Henry that moves the chains.
The key elements to this read are that Jones reads out the Tampa-Two coverage with the middle linebacker matching Jakobi Meyers’s vertical route upfield, which opens the middle of the field for Henry’s in cut. Then, Mac sees the off-ball linebacker to his left widen towards the running back’s release out of the backfield, opening the window from the underneath coverage. Left guard James Ferentz gets beat, but Jones recognizes the space is available to climb the pocket. He climbs and delivers the throw to Henry before the half-field safety can crash down.
2ND QTR, 0:51, 1ST-&-10: M. JONES PASS INCOMPLETE TO H. HENRY (INTable)
The good news about this near-interception for Jones is that his thought process made sense, but he doesn’t get enough on the throw from his back foot to split the safeties.
Meyers’s under route holds the MIKE linebacker (Christian Kirksey) in a short zone rather than matching Henry up the shoot. Again, the coverage read is fine. But the pressure up the middle causes Jones to throw the ball off his back foot, and he’s a little late to pull the trigger. Mac needs to get rid of the ball quicker with his level of arm talent there to give this play a chance. He’s not going to rip it between two defenders off his back foot like he’s Mahomes or Josh Allen.
3RD QTR, 12:03, 3RD-&-10: M. JONES PASS INCOMPLETE TO J. MEYERS (INTable)
Here’s another example where Jones is trying to do too much, especially given his strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback.
The Pats’ rookie does well to feel the pressure coming from the backside and spins out of the pocket. But then he gets too greedy. Jones attempts a throw as Meyers flashes open late that maybe two or three quarterbacks in the world can make, and he’s not one of them. Ideally, you’d like to see N’Keal Harry (left flat) work back to the quarterback here to create more space for Meyers’s route and allow Mac to play a cat-and-mouse game with the flat defender. Still, that’s a dangerous ball from Jones.
2ND QTR, 1:31, 1ST-&-10: M. JONES PASS COMPLETE TO H. HENRY FOR FIVE YARDS
After consulting with one of the best in the biz, Mark Schofield, we put this play in its own category because it’s nitpicky. Still, I want to see Mac eventually rip this throw along the sideline.
At the bottom of the screen, Jones has Kendrick Bourne running a vertical route against a corner way off the line of scrimmage. That’s a mile of cushion in the NFL for a guy in Bourne who isn’t particularly fast. Nevertheless, Mac makes the less aggressive decision to check this down to Henry. Eventually, I’d like to see Jones throw Bourne open there on a comebacker or back-shoulder along the sideline. Far hash, down before the half, some risk involved. But I’m dying to see Mac grip it and rip it on a sideline throw like that one. Hopefully, it’s coming.
The eight positive throws above illustrate a quarterback who fully grasps how the route concepts at his disposal are attacking certain coverages.
In other words, Jones knows where the opening will be in the defense and the best way to get the ball there.
As we highlighted in the few plays he’d like to have back, the next step for the Pats’ rookie is understanding his physical limitations and the speed in which NFL passing windows shrink.
But at this stage, he’s operating well ahead of the curve and is in a great place with his development.