Mac Jones Knows What Patriots Must Fix About Struggling Offense

'Every drive can't seem like it's so hard to get yards'


Nov 6, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — The good from the Patriots’ latest offensive performance: Mac Jones ended a streak of seven consecutive games with an interception.

The not-so-good: pretty much everything else.

This was another slog for New England’s struggling offense, which now has mustered just one touchdown in back-to-back games. Fortunately for Bill Belichick’s club, suffocating defense and opportunistic special teams propelled the Patriots to victory in both of those games, including a 26-3 stomping of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

But for the 5-4 Patriots to survive their gauntlet of formidable second-half opponents and return to the postseason, they know offensive efforts like these will not suffice.

“I think we definitely want to move the ball,” Jones said after Sunday’s game. “When we get the ball as an offense, we want to score on every possession, and we want to score touchdowns. And sometimes when we don’t do that, we get a little frustrated, myself included. But at the end of the day, it’s about controlling the ball. When we don’t turn the ball over, our statistics are really good to win the game. Sometimes it’s hard to realize, but we talk about that internally all the time, and when we do that, we usually win. So definitely some things I’m sure I’ll see on film that you want to have back.

“At the same time, you’ve got to move the ball, and we’ve got to eliminate some of the negative plays. We’re just in long-yardage situations way too often. It’s the NFL. These guys are pretty good. If you put yourself behind the sticks, your percentages plummet. It is what it is. You’ve got to fight through it and figure out a way to be better on first and second down. That helps on third down.”

Early-down struggles were a major issue against the Colts. The Patriots ran 24 first-down plays and lost yardage on seven of them (29.2%), including one holding penalty on Isaiah Wynn. Seventeen of those plays gained 2 yards or fewer. Overall, the Patriots averaged 2.7 yards per play on first down, excluding the Wynn penalty. Take out one 24-yard screen pass to Jonnu Smith, and that number drops to 1.7.

These problems were immediately visible, too. Rhamondre Stevenson was decked in the backfield to open each of New England’s first two drives, and those ended in three-and-outs after failed conversions on third-and-12 and third-and-10, respectively. The Patriots’ next two first-down plays were carries that gained just 1 yard apiece. The second was followed by a sack, setting up a third-and-15 and a punt.

New England could benefit from more varied first-down play-calling from Matt Patricia. The Patriots ran the ball on 16 of their first downs and gained 3 or fewer yards on 13 of those runs, with five losing yardage. The first-down pass game wasn’t especially effective either, though: Jones had the 24-yarder to Smith but was 4-for-6 for 10 yards on his other first-down dropbacks.

The Patriots faced third-and-7 or longer on eight of their 17 third downs in the win. They gained more than 20 yards on just three of their 13 non-kneeldown possessions.

“First and second downs is a big part of the NFL,” said Jones, who missed three games last month with a high ankle sprain. “I think really good teams are good on first and second down. Third down, they’re in a better spot and convert more. You want to be above whatever percentage mark we set, and we’ve got to be better and extend drives that way. Every drive can’t seem like it’s so hard to get yards. We’ve got to be able to skip some third downs and move the ball and get explosive plays.”

Jones said opponents have tried to take away those downfield chunk plays by frequently deploying two high safeties, which he viewed as a sign of “respect towards our skill players and the guys we have.” Having injured receiver DeVante Parker for just one snap over the last two games also hasn’t helped in that area, as he’s the Patriots’ biggest threat on downfield contested catches. Patriots wideouts not named Jakobi Meyers have combined for six catches for 31 yards in Parker’s absence.

The most glaring mistakes, though, have occurred up front.

The Patriots’ offensive line has allowed 10 sacks over the last two weeks, by far the most Jones has taken over any two-game stretch in his NFL career. That unit also has gotten worked in the run game by two talented defensive fronts, with only Stevenson’s elusiveness keeping that part of New England’s offense afloat. They’ve sorely missed starting center David Andrews, who missed both games with a concussion, and still haven’t found a viable solution at right tackle. (Yodny Cajuste started there Sunday and had trouble in pass protection.) First-round left guard Cole Strange also has gotten benched for Isaiah Wynn, a career tackle, in back-to-back weeks.

Jones also has not performed to the level he set during his promising rookie season, though his turnover-free outing was a positive development.

“(The Colts) have a good defense,” Belichick said. “The front’s tough. They gave us some problems. Collectively, as a team, we had some trouble for sure. Some negative runs, and there was some pressure. Didn’t turn the ball over. Fumbled it, but didn’t turn the ball over in a passing game, so that was good. Had trouble with their front, no doubt about it.”

The Patriots were bailed out Sunday by their defense (nine sacks, seven three-and-outs, one pick-six) and kicking game (blocked punt, 4-for-4 on field goals, two explosive returns), just as they were in last week’s 22-17 win over the Jets. Against New York, they got 15 of their points off Folk field goals and intercepted three Zach Wilson passes.

While successful of late, that formula likely won’t be sustainable once the Patriots return from their Week 10 bye. Their next three games are against the 6-3 Jets, 7-1 Minnesota Vikings and 6-2, AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills, with a Bills rematch and dates with the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins also on their remaining schedule.

“There’s problems obviously, clearly, and we just want to fix anything with a solution,” Jones said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job of that, but we really need to pick that up to beat some really good teams coming up.”

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon
Previous Article

Patriots’ Matthew Judon Calls Out Ravens Before, After Career Day

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones
Next Article

Mac Jones Reviews Patriots Coaching After Nine Uneven Weeks

Picked For You