Over the last two weeks, the tone and narrative surrounding Mac Jones and the Patriots offense has totally changed.
During New England’s first training camp practice, Jones picked up where he left off during spring practices, carving up the Patriots’ secondary and boisterously celebrating with his teammates after big plays. The offense, with DeVante Parker looking like a legitimate top wideout, was all smiles, and much of the talk centered around Jones’ emerging leadership and improved physique.
Nothing has changed on those last two points. Jones still looks leaner than he was last season and has the full support and admiration of his Patriots teammates. However, in the nine practices since New England’s camp opener, the offense has been categorically awful, with Jones himself contributing to the struggles.
But how much blame does the sophomore quarterback deserve for the ongoing failures of a revamped system that might be on the verge of being thrown out?
Well, it’s complicated.
Jones absolutely deserves some blame, especially for what transpired Monday. In many ways, the 10th practice saw the most distressing performance yet from the Patriots offense, with Jones also submitting his ugliest session. The 23-year-old was inaccurate, threw a bad interception, took “sacks” when he didn’t need to and was visibly frustrated on multiple occasions. He also struggled to get on the same page with his receivers.
And these are ongoing trends. One stretch of camp saw Jones throw interceptions in three straight practices. Miscommunication has been prevalent. Jones increasingly has worn his frustrations on his sleeve, not hiding his dejection when the offense is spinning its wheels. Perhaps most alarming has been Jones’ penchant for getting sped up and rattled by a pass rush that, while consistently in his face, isn’t even allowed to hit him in these practices. Too often Jones has bailed on a play and not seen receivers who actually are open.
All that said, it’s hard to pin the majority of this on Jones. If the rising tide raises all ships, then the opposite also must be true. The struggles of the Patriots offense are unit-wide, coaching included. Jones, for all his talent and promise, isn’t good enough to elevate the entire offense by himself — and that’s not a knock on him. He lost his offensive coordinator, and a great one at that, after his rookie season and now is being fed plays by a combination of Matt Patricia, Joe Judge and Bill Belichick. That alone is a major adjustment, never mind the implementing/streamlining of a new, Shanahan-esque system.
However, if there’s one top culprit, it has to be the offensive line, which has been atrocious during competitive team drills. Jones and the offense look good during 7-on-7 periods, but once offensive and defensive linemen are on the field in 11-on-11s, everything falls apart.
If you count the Trent Brown-Isaiah Wynn swap, the Patriots are featuring four new starters on their offensive line, and they’re being asked to adopt a scheme and playbook that seem significantly different from what’s been in place in recent years.
Moreover, the group is being coached up by Matt Patricia, an established defensive mind who hasn’t coached O-line since 2005. And it’s not even clear how much coaching Patricia is doing, as it’s been common for him to call plays during 7-on-7s while assistant Billy Yates does close coaching with linemen in 1-on-1 drills elsewhere on the practice field.
Given all those factors, it’s not surprising that the offensive line has been a mess and brought Jones down with it. Nor is it surprising that some of the most tied-in reporters covering the Patriots are openly wondering whether legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia soon could get a call.
(For what it’s worth, Scarnecchia himself recently said it’s too early to panic about the offense.)
And he probably is right, but the breaking point is coming — if it hasn’t already. Thursday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants might go a long way toward determining how much longer Belichick waits for the new offensive system to stick.
But the reality is that major changes and lack of cohesion on the offense have been reflected in the group’s disjointed play, Jones included. He hasn’t been good, but his struggles are a symptom of a larger problem.
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