The New England Patriots are who we thought they were. The Patriots were bested in their own building in Week 1 by the Miami Dolphins—certainly a surprise to pundits—but everything we thought we knew about the Patriots’ offensive DNA under the watch of rookie quarterback Mac Jones fulfilled itself on Sunday afternoon.
Jones finished the day 29-of-39 passing for 281 yards and a score, completing nearly 75% of his passes along the way. A great day at the office, right? His 74% completion is the best mark ever for a rookie quarterback logging 30-plus passing attempts in a game.
Jones is serving as the latest example of environment and schematic fit being as important to a young quarterback’s development as anything else. Because while Jones put up some comfortably impressive box score numbers, the context of the flow of the game gives these numbers even more meaning: The Patriots did a terrific job of protecting Jones from his own inexperience. And to help further craft a record-setting environment on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins seemed plenty content to play along, offering New England space underneath to work the ball before rallying to tackle and living to fight another down.
Next Gen Stats clocked Jones’ average time from snap to release as the sixth-fastest in all of football in Week 1 (2.54s on average). His average intended air yards per attempt of 6.3 yards per attempt was the seventh-lowest in the league in Week 1. Only 10.3% of his attempts were classified as “aggressive” throws; attempts made to a player with a defender within 1-yard of the target. And only five quarterbacks threw shorter to the first down marker on average across all of their attempts on Sunday than Jones’ -3.0 air yards to the sticks per attempt.
This isn’t meant to diminish Jones’ play on Sunday, though. It is more so to amplify what the Patriots are asking their young quarterback to do. Jones was mentally sharp, he was in control at the line of scrimmage, and he clearly knew the right places to go with the football. But situationally, the Patriots needed more from Jones than what they got; which is exactly the shoes you’d expect to find a rookie quarterback in.
New England fizzled in the red zone as the Dolphins’ defense clamped down. The Patriots logged just one touchdown in four trips into the red area and that score came after Jones took a sack that was called roughing the passer on 3rd-and-short from Miami linebacker Elandon Roberts. Roberts was falling to the ground after running through a block from the back and was charged with a penalty on the play to extend the drive.
The DNA of this Patriots offense is going to put Jones in a lot of advantageous situations. Opposing defenses are often going to be reeling against New England’s ability to run the football, setting Jones up to be a very proficient play-action passer in 2021 and beyond while simultaneously continuing to manufacture open targets for him to distribute the football to. He’s going to have success in this kind of environment, no doubt. But the question becomes what the ceiling is for Jones, at least early on in his career, when the team runs into a defensive mirror of themselves, as they did in facing Miami in Week 1?
The Dolphins were content to play soft at times, putting the cap on New England’s ability to threaten vertically and forcing the team into methodical drives down the field, only to see the congestion of the field in the red zone squeeze the windows against New England’s passing attack naturally and force Jones to play at a quicker pace with more confidence and anticipation.
The smoking gun from Week 1? New England’s drives and point production:
- 14 plays, 65 yards, 7 minutes of possession. Field goal.
- 14 plays, 67 yards, 8 minutes of possession. Field goal.
- 14 plays, 57 yards, 5 and a half minutes of possession. Field goal.
These drives stalled at Miami’s 9, 24, and 15-yard lines, respectively.
New England didn’t get that final product from Jones in Week 1. That’s fine. It was his first career start. But Jones’ development and his ability to help push New England as a playoff contender will be rooted in how he grows in these areas moving forward because the stuff between the 20s? That’s going to take care of itself. New England’s ground game and Josh McDaniels are going to see to that.