NFL analyst explains why it’s impossible to assess Mac Jones’ 2023 performance

The best quarterback analyst on TV says it’s unrealistic to expect Mac Jones to show any signs of improvement in an offense as dysfunctional as the current Patriots system.
New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins / Perry Knotts/GettyImages


Player development is impossible in this situation."

Dan Orlovsky

The Gestalt school of psychology is often summarized by one sentence, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” That must be how ESPN's Dan Orlovsky assesses QB play, too. The eminent ESPN analyst posted on social media that it’s impossible to evaluate Mac Jones’ improvement accurately or even to expect him to improve this season. That’s because so many of the Patriots’ issues on offense are things Jones can’t control.

History is littered with quarterbacks who struggled under one offensive coordinator only to flourish under another. Alex Smith was often labeled a bust in San Francisco, where he worked with seven different OCs in seven seasons! But under Greg Roman, in 2011, Smith went 13-3 in the regular season, leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship game.

It took the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Giants, to end Smith’s season. That doesn’t happen if you’re a bust. Under Doug Pederson and Andy Reid, Smith would win 11 games as a Chief in 2013 and 2015 (and again in 2016 under “co-offensive coordinators” Brad Childress and Matt Nagy).  

The 2023 Chiefs are an interesting case study, too. Matt Nagy is back as the offensive coordinator after Eric Bienemy became the Commanders assistant head coach and OC. With new ownership and Ron Rivera’s position looking increasingly untenable, that might have been a very shrewd business decision by Bienemy. But the offense in KC has taken a step backward this season.

After nine games last season, Mahomes had thrown 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions; so far this season, he’s thrown 17 and 8. That’s hardly proof that the Chiefs offense is bad, but there has been some regression since Bienemy’s departure. 

Labeling the quarterback a failure when an offense struggles is understandable, but it shows a remarkable lack of understanding about how humans work. If coaches want to get the best out of their players, they must involve them in planning.

Baker Mayfield didn’t suddenly become an elite quarterback when he arrived in L. A because he likes California. Sean McVay asked him to do things he feels comfortable doing instead of blowing his top because Mayfield couldn’t do everything in the Matt Stafford playbook. 

Orlovsky’s assertion that it would be impossible for any player to develop playing in the offense the Patriots are giving Mac Jones is impossible to disagree with. It’s also difficult to argue that the problem is with the system and not the players.  

It’s not just Jones suffering in the current offense, either. Two new arrivals in New England who have performed well for other teams are suffering, too.

Mike Gesicki has his lowest yards per reception of his career and his fewest yards per game since his rookie season. That’s despite his 70% catch rate being a career-high. It’s a similar story for Super Bowl winner JuJu Smith-Schuster. His yards per reception is 1.8 yards below his previous lowest average. And he set that playing in a very clunky Steelers offense. 

Even the Bills, who have just fired their OC, have players who are performing well. Second-year receiver Khalil Shakir (even though he’s only started four games) is currently catching 90.5% of his targets and making 13.1 yards per catch. That’s more than Demario Douglas, probably the Patriots' most consistent receiving threat. Joe Brady might want to use Shakir more often than Dorsey did. 

There’s a lot of talk about the 2024 quarterback class, but if the current quarterback cannot fulfill his undoubted talent, would parachuting a 22-year-old Caleb Williams into “one of the worst QB situations over the last decade” really solve the Patriots’ problems? Maybe they need to make some systemic changes before the draft rolls around.