Mac Jones is not the biggest issue for the Patriots’ offense

Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) prepares to throw the ball against the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) prepares to throw the ball against the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

Before the start of the 2022 season, the Patriots offense was believed to be the more talented side of the team. With almost all of the players from last year’s roster returning and Mac Jones looking to build upon the success of his rookie campaign, New England appeared primed and ready to have an even better year.

But that’s not how the season began.

The departure of Josh McDaniels set the tone for the offseason.

Just weeks after the 2021 season ended, it was announced that Josh McDaniels signed with the Las Vegas Raiders to become their new head coach. Although the news didn’t raise significant concern immediately, Bill Belichick’s apparent disinterest in replacing the longtime play-caller over the next several months led to uneasiness regarding the offense’s future.

Replacing McDaniels would never be a simple task, no matter who was brought in to take over. From the nearly two decades of experience he accumulated with the organization to the expertise he possessed of the team’s offense, McDaniels was a walking encyclopedia regarding all that encompasses the Patriot way.

On top of that, the connection between him and Jones would not be easily replicated, as it was evident from the start. Their successful working relationship translated into big wins for the team, ending the 2021 season just one game behind the division leader and returning to the playoffs after missing the postseason the year before.

What the pair could have accomplished this season will remain unknown, but given the impressive performance of Jones as a rookie, it’s likely 2022 would’ve been even better.

When considering a reworked offense with a new coordinator post-McDaniels, there was a lot of confidence behind Jones because of his experience working with new play-callers. During his time at the University of Alabama, he had three OCs in three years, learning from and teaching them the team’s offense every time.

But the NFL is a much bigger animal. Overcoming the loss of McDaniels would be more challenging than what he previously experienced, especially so early in his NFL career.

Despite the imminent change of who would be calling plays, the offseason provided more optimism for what the 2022 season would bring for the offense. After a seemingly successful draft and promising free agent additions ready to join the team, the expectations for the Patriots were high, stemming from the success of Jones’ rookie season.

But that optimism quickly plummeted and worsened when the Patriots announced Matt Patricia was unofficially given the offensive coordinator duties. With little experience coaching offenses during his career, many questioned Belichick’s decision to hand the clipboard to the once-failed head coach.

Because the team is currently rebuilding, intending to take back the AFC throne sooner rather than later, the decision to give Patricia the keys to the offense has remained controversial.

His successful tenure in New England working with the defense is widely known. His work as the defensive coordinator helped him earn a head coaching job with the Detroit Lions, as he was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams with the Patriots. And although coaches switching from one side of the ball to the other is not uncommon, Patricia overtaking the offense right after McDaniels left seemed like a disaster from the start, with many believing it was setting Jones up to fail especially.

Not many of Belichick’s coaching decisions have been doubted over the years, but this season has been different.

On top of dealing with McDaniels’ absence and Patricia’s new role, it was reported that Belichick was integrating an entirely new playbook and scheme, adding to the list of changes the offense needed to overcome. The worries about Jones’ handling of the newly changed offense began to dominate the conversation surrounding the team, particularly when watching preseason practices and games.

The offense was clearly struggling with the changes, and their lackluster performance was on full display. The defense continuously outshined and outperformed them in every practice and game. This led many to blame Patricia for his inexperience and presumably bad play-calling while simultaneously blaming Jones for what some alleged was his “second-year regression” showing.

That blame has continued through twelve weeks of the regular season, but when looking at the statistics, it’s clear Jones doesn’t deserve it at all.

The 2022 season hasn’t been the best showing for Mac Jones. But…

It’s entirely fair to be disappointed with what the Patriots’ offense and Jones have (or have not) accomplished so far this season. Outside of the usual troubles that every team needs to work out in the first several weeks of the season, the team has been unable to overcome most of its struggles to remain far more competitive than the initial hope was for the year.

But the amount of fault for the offense’s unexciting performance has been unfairly placed on Jones and Jones only. A lot of that blame should be distributed amongst several others more responsible for what has been seen so far and not limited to Jones’ rumored “regression.”

The offensive line has been inconsistent, to say the least.

Jones has faced a lot of criticism for his seeming lack of pocket awareness which has frequently led to sacks or turnovers. In the eight games he’s played this season, he has totaled 24 sacks for a loss of 152 yards, just four sacks shy of his 2021 season total. Although some of those occurred due to Jones’ indecision of where to throw and holding onto the football too long, most of the sacks have resulted from poor execution by the offensive line, a consistently inconsistent unit of the team overall that just so happens to be coached by Patricia, as well.

After the second matchup with the New York Jets, Jones was said to only be “responsible for 8.2% of his total pressures, according to PFF, which ranks 8th-lowest among qualified passers this year.” The experts also tracked the quarterback to be solely at fault for just five of his 61 pressures (28th fewest) and four of his 21 sacks (16th fewest.)

To examine that even further and look at a game-specific performance, Jones took six sacks against the Jets in week eleven. Despite the shouting of the fault being hurled at him for them all, the offensive line provided little to no time for Jones to make a play. His average time to sack in that game was 2.93 seconds, far below the league average of 3.58 seconds. Few quarterbacks in the league would be successful given those conditions, no matter who the quarterback or the opponent’s defense is.

Another standout issue plaguing the offense has been the piling up of penalties. Through twelve weeks, the offense has totaled 35 penalties for 259 yards, many of which were by an offensive lineman and occurred after a successful play.

The biggest culprit for flags this season for the Patriots has been Isaiah Wynn. Placing sixth in the league for most penalties with eight, his penalties have hit the offense with 59 yards taken back. Right behind Wynn is rookie Cole Strange with four penalties for 40 yards and Trent Brown with four flags totaling 30 yards.

The undisciplined performance by the trio has made Jones’ job much more difficult each week, on top of an already struggling offense trying to get it together enough to move down the field.

Ignoring the vanilla and predictable play-calling would also be a disservice to Jones.

Patricia’s performance as the OC has been heavily scrutinized, but within the criticism of Jones’ play lies more blame on the play-calling than quarterback performance.

Excluding the argument in comparing the difference in game planning between Bailey Zappe and Jones this season, the predictability of plays was a key component many were looking forward to seeing gone with the departure of McDaniels this offseason. The biggest complaint with the former offensive coordinator surrounded his lack of creativity when calling plays; much of that has remained the same since Patricia was handed the reins.

The predictability factor became a hot topic during the team’s bye week, as it was reported defensive players on both the Jets and Colts were heard calling out plays before they happened.

How successful can an offense truly be if opposing defenses can easily identify what’s coming next?

And then there’s Matt Patricia’s lack of inclusion of top receivers from last season.

Other than the play-calling, there has also been a vastly different approach with players who were top performers for the team last season.

Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry, who had the best performances of their careers in 2021, have remained nearly absent in every game. Bourne quickly became a favorite target for Jones last year, ranking slightly behind Jakobi Meyers as the Patriots’ WR2. And Henry outperformed all expectations as he became the primary red zone target throughout the season. Patricia’s decision to essentially exclude two of the best offensive performers who developed the most chemistry with Jones has likely impacted the quarterback’s performance, too.

Does Jones not deserve any criticism for his performance this season?

Because placing blame elsewhere has become an unpopular take, the assumption that said opinion somehow means that Jones is free of responsibility has become a talking point. However, excluding quarterback performance would invalidate the depiction of the Patriots’ offensive performance this season; thus, it is also partly responsible.

Has Jones had poor performances and execution this season? Of course. Have his mistakes led to negative plays and turnovers, costing the offense opportunities? Yes. Has his overall production through eight games been the leading cause for the offense’s struggles? Absolutely not.

Football is a team sport. Almost nothing, positive or negative, can be caused by a singular player, including a quarterback.

That then begs the question; who is accountable for the offense this season?

It seems the most fair to say the most prominent issue facing this Patriots team is very clearly Matt Patricia. He has been coaching the offensive line and calling plays for three months of the regular season with minimal improvements. Suppose both units that a coach is working with continue to display inconsistent performances and lack of refinement, especially when those units are as important as the offensive line and game planning. Shouldn’t that coach be held accountable more than anyone else?

With six games left of the regular season, there’s still time for the offense to finally develop an identity and make their way back to the playoffs. Through the last two games, Jones’ performance and the offense as a whole have proven they can make the big plays needed and compete with top teams in the league (other than their continued woes in the red zone.)

Will Patricia make the improvements needed to maintain that recent offensive success? With just a handful of games left and tough opponents ahead, he certainly has a lot to prove and a lot to prove quickly.