FOXBORO — With just one preseason game remaining before preparations begin in earnest for their 2022 regular season opener, the New England Patriots continue to be beset with questions on the offensive side of the ball.
During two days of joint practice with the Las Vegas Raiders, the Pats have struggled at the beginning of 11-on-11 drills. The team had limited success in the passing game, with notable struggles while attempting to run the football.
Quarterback Mac Jones, however, is not among the legion of fans and media masses rushing to hit the panic button.
On the contrary, he believes the Patriots are headed in the right direction when it comes to finding its offensive identity.
“I think we’ve done it in a number of ways,” Jones told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s just finding it in the game, and finding our rhythm, and that will just happen over time. It’s a long season and we’re not really worried about the future. I think coach [Bill] Belichick has laid it out for us to focus on how we can just play better, how we can just fundamentally get better.
While the early stages of Tuesday’s practice featured potential sacks and drops from his receivers, Jones and the Pats offense showed some signs of life during two-minute drills. Jones went 5 of 6 with completions to tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, receiver Jakobi Meyers, and finally to wideout Kendrick Bourne for a touchdown.
The Patriots once again found success during such drills Wednesday. Jones found receiver DeVante Parker, Smith and hybrid runner/rusher Ty Montgomery before kicker Nick Folk connected on a 46-yard field goal. The Pats ended the day with a score from Jones to Henry.
With the loss of the former offensive coordinator [and current Raiders’ head coach] Josh McDaniels, much has been made of the Pats’ efforts to implement a completely foreign offense. Despite the introduction of additional zone-running concepts, the Patriots’ air attack remains timing-based, relying on vertical routes and completions from quick, accurate throws. New England also continues to spread the ball to multiple pass catchers, much to the agreement of their starting quarterback.
Scroll to Continue
“For me, [it’s] just ‘throw to the open guy’ wherever that may be,” Jones said. “It can be deep, short, in the middle, it doesn’t matter. For offensive line, pad level, things like that. It’s a lot of fundamentals. If you just fix them, it doesn’t matter what you do x’s and o’s— wise, you should be able to compete with the players we have and all the talent we have.”
During his time at Alabama, Jones was quite adept at running this type of offense. With a strong supporting cast around him, Jones was able to create plays by directing receivers under the defense, releasing the ball quickly and delivering it accurately. This gave his playmakers the space they needed to catch and run with the football.
Last season, Jones effectively navigated the Patriots offense. He led all rookies with a 67.6 completion percentage and a 92.5 passer rating while compiling 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He completed at least 70 percent of his attempts in nine of New England’s games and twice threw for 300-plus yards through the air. He earned a selection to the Pro Bowl, as well as a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie team.
But Jones clearly had his struggles down the stretch. He was less accurate, made more rookie mistakes and struggled when defenses were able to adjust to take away his preferred routes and targets. Knowing that a marked improvement would be needed heading into 2022, Jones and his offensive line have been working on ways to control the problematic strategic blitzes coming from second- and third-tier opponents. In addition to sharpening fundamentals, the Pats line and their signal caller have improved their communication. Jones in particular has become more confident, and thus more vocal, in the cluster. As such, the two sides have developed a greater understanding of each other.
“I can always give that message, like ‘hey, I need some time here,’ and they always respond really well,” Jones said of his guidance in the cluster. “It could [also] be a short message, like “hey, make sure you catch it and get down, we’re going to call a timeout.” It’s all sorts of things. So it’s a constant game within the game that we have to keep working on.’
With their season set to begin on September 11 against the Miami Dolphins, the Pats offense has yet to round off into a finished product. In fact, it can probably be more accurately compared to a “work in progress.” However, Jones is confident he is prepared for any situation … and credits that confidence with the strength of New England’s team identity.
“That’s what I love about being here,” Jones said with a grin. “I feel so prepared when they come up in the game based on my experiences. I’m always prepared for what’s coming.”
New England will close out its preseason slate Friday night against the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, with kickoff set for 8:15 p.m. ET.