Since the start of the 2022 season, the Patriots have dealt with one of their most glaring issues at the start of last year. In uncharacteristic form, New England has struggled to maintain protection of the football offensively, which has been no help to their struggles on that side of the football so far.
In week one against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots were unable to stop the game from getting out of hand, much of it due to turnovers. Mac Jones set the tone of the day finishing the first drive with an interception intended for DeVante Parker in the end zone. Although defensive pass interference could have easily been called and probably should have, Jones’ decision to throw in the direction of Xavien Howard wasn’t his best choice of the day.
But that was just the beginning. Two drives later, to no fault of his own, Jones would be sacked for a loss of nine yards and fumble the football in the process. Melvin Ingram scooped up the ball and returned it two yards for the defensive touchdown. Jones has been faulted for the result, but the offensive line blew their assignments and failed to account for a Dolphins’ defender, opening a straight path to the quarterback.
This put the Patriots in a bigger hole, down 10-0, and set them up to play catch up for the remainder of the game.
Their forgettable performance to open the season would end in a similar fashion. On what would be their final drive of the game, Nelson Agholor fumbled near midfield and Jaelan Phillips came up with the recovery.
Hoping to put the game behind them, the Patriots quickly switched their focus to their next road game against the Steelers. Emphasizing the age-old adage to protect the football, they were able to avoid repeating the result of their week one game. They came up with the win in Pittsburgh and only dealt with giving the defense a single opportunity with one interception.
Unfortunately, they would revert to the turnover blunder in their first home game of the season when the Ravens came to town for week three.
The first half went on without any trouble with the Patriots keeping the game close entering halftime only down 14-13. Although the third quarter began with a quick touchdown in just seven plays, the rest of the game was all downhill from there.
First Jones would run into the same issue from the Dolphins game in week one and throw an interception on a pass meant for Parker. The Ravens would take over in Patriots territory and end their extra drive with a field goal.
After scoring a touchdown to inch closer to Baltimore in the fourth quarter, Patriots’ Jonathan Jones would force a fumble with Jabrill Peppers coming up with the recovery. The defense, once again, came in clutch to give an opportunity to the offense on the opponent’s side of the field. But that drive would end in disaster as well, with Jones throwing another interception.
The Ravens would fail to score on the drive, giving New England the ball back halfway through the final quarter. The drive started mediocrely, only gaining four yards on the first two downs. Then Jones threw a successful deep pass to Nelson Agholor, who then fumbled and saw Marcus Peters come up with the football.
Baltimore went on to score what would be a game-sealing touchdown and the Patriots’ day would end with another interception. Jones totaled three for the day, bringing him up to five through just three games this season. It’s likely due to his subsequent ankle injury that occurred on the play, but the final turnover made it crystal clear the team needed to improve fast.
Bill Belichick was asked about the turnover issue this season this past week and mentioned many factors have contributed to the problem.
"“There are some contact plays that are contact plays, but ball security is the responsibility of the people that have the ball and the execution of the play. Quarterback gets strip-sacked because of a missed block or mental error on the protection, or something like that, that’s not really the quarterback’s responsibility. But generally speaking, if you have the ball you have to secure it. We haven’t done a good enough job of that. Coaching, playing, accountability, responsibility, we all have to do a better job.”"
Given the importance Belichick has always made ball security, it’s almost shocking to see the team struggle with just that early on in the season once again. With a difficult schedule for the remainder of the season, the team will need to make it a focus in practices to better protect the football or more losses will pile up from losing the turnover battle.
More coaches have spoken on the matter, including wide receivers coach Ross Douglas. Reiterating what Belichick had to say, Douglas made it known the team is aware of the problem and needs to execute better in trying to resolve it.
"“It’s something that we have to learn from, that we have to continue to harp on as a coaching staff. As players and as everybody in that organization, we have to make a full commitment to ball security. I remember when I was a GA at Rutgers, I hear it burned into my head right now, Coach [Greg] Schiano would always yell, like, ‘The ball is the program! The ball is the program!’ We just have to take care of the football so we can continue to move the ball and put points on the board. It’s something that we just have to emphasize.”"
With Mac Jones missing the Packers game in Green Bay this weekend, there will be more pressure on Brian Hoyer to not create opportunities for Aaron Rodgers to capitalize on. Losing the turnover battler will never win games and if the Patriots intend on winning more this season, they need to reevaluate and limit their mistakes as much as possible going forward.