By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots won and won handily on Sunday, beating the Jets 25-6 in a game that was never really competitive. Mac Jones did what the Patriots asked him to do, completing 22 of his 30 passes for 186 with no touchdowns but also with no interceptions.READ MORE: Nearly 30 Million People Tuned In To See Thrilling End Of Patriots-Cowboys On CBS
Given that Jones didn’t push the ball downfield very much — he completed a 24-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers up the left sideline, and threw incomplete to the deep middle for Kendrick Bourne in double coverage — some questions have been asked around New England about whether Jones is capable of running a high-octane NFL offense, and whether the Patriots trust him to make some deeper, more dangerous throws.
So it wasn’t all that surprising for the first two questions posed to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Tuesday to be based on the notion that the Patriots are being careful with their rookie quarterback.
The first question related to the importance of a vertical passing game, and whether an offense could be successful without regularly throwing passes down the field. McDaniels seemed prepared to face such a question, as he spent nearly two and a half minutes answering it.
“I think it’s important to have the ability to throw the ball vertically, horizontally in every game, and most pass patterns have that element available to them,” McDaniels said. “I think there’s a part of that process, which involves certainly decision-making, whether you want to kind of do everything you can to try to force it down the field, where there’s times where you could do that. Or you call plays that have an option to throw the ball down the field vertically, and if the defense were to play specific coverages that take those elements away that you then make the decision to do something else with the ball. Certainly, you want to be able to attack all areas of the field and force the defense to defend everything. And we’ll continue to try to work hard at doing that.”
McDaniels admitted that as the play-caller, he can “do more” to create more downfield opportunities, but he’ll never create needless risks when he doesn’t have to.
“I think there’s also a balance of the timing of the game, the score, the situation itself, you’re weighing a little bit of risk versus reward, et cetera,” McDaniels said. “So I think there’s a lot of factors there but the short answer to your question is yes, it’s important to have the ability to throw the ball to all levels of the defense and make them defend everything, which certainly would open up other things for you underneath possibly. But at the same time, I think there’s an important balance between just closing your eyes and heaving it deep when it’s really not there.”
The second question posed to McDaniels related specifically to play-calling, and whether the Patriots call fewer plays that call for downfield passes, or whether the team does trust Jones to make those throws and be aggressive when the opportunity presents itself.
McDaniels was quite clear with his answer.
“I trust him,” McDaniels said. “Completely.”READ MORE: NFL Films Microphones Catch CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys Celebrating Win Over Patriots
This answer was nearly three minutes long, as McDaniels said he understood the line of questioning, based on the way that Sunday’s game played out. He also pointed out that with the quarterback routinely under pressure through two weeks of the season, that’s a factor that needs to be considered as well.
“I think protection is one of the discussions you have to be aware of,” McDaniels said. “Blitz, is there a lot of pressure coming at you, can you hold the ball, are you able to do things with certain protections to add time to your pocket? And he has to deal with all of those same things. He has to weigh what is the coverage, how am I seeing it, does it give me a chance to do that? At the same time, [he has to] react to maybe something in the pass rush or what have you that forces the ball to come out of his hand a little quicker. That’s been the case for every quarterback who’s ever played.”
Because of the Jets’ and Dolphins’ aggression at the line of scrimmage in the first two weeks, certain plays that take more time to develop weren’t available.
“Believe me, there’s not a whole lot that we’re holding back for him,” McDaniels said. “I think this was a very aggressive front that we saw in New York, certainly. They did a good job of trying to get up the field and get into the middle of the pocket some, which certainly we can improve in that area as well. And then we talked last week about how much pressure Miami brought and so on, so forth.”
As McDaniels explained, “the defense certainly has a vote” in determining how an offensive play is executed, and that’s been the case with Jones and the Patriots thus far in 2021. And he said the entire operation is not solely reliant on the quarterback.
“Our execution across the board — the read from the quarterback’s perspective, was the coverage applicable for us to take a shot or throw it down the field or throw it intermediate, the execution of the protection, the execution of the blitz pickup, the route, did we run the route the right way, did we get open down the field, did we give ourselves an opportunity? So I think there’s a lot of things that go into that,” McDaniels said.
McDaniels then laid out what he desires from Jones in that regard.
“Certainly like I said, you want to be able to test those areas of the field as you move forward. But I also want him to make smart decisions. I want him to protect the football, and I want him to be aggressive when it’s time to be aggressive,” McDaniels said. “It’s not like he’s not [throwing the ball downfield]. It’s just there are certain times when it’s the right time to do it and certain times where it’s not. And I’ve got to continue to work hard myself to try to provide our offense with opportunities to do that if it presents itself.”
This Sunday, the Patriots will play host to the Saints, who have had two very different defensive performances thus far in 2021. They held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just three points and 229 yards in Week 1, recording two interceptions and two sacks of Rodgers, plus a strip-sack and fumble recovery on Jordan Love. This past weekend in Carolina, the Saints allowed 26 points and 383 yards, recording two sacks and one interception of Sam Darnold, which was more like a straight giveaway from Darnold to a defensive lineman’s chest.
For the Patriots, solidifying the right tackle position — either via the return of Trent Brown, or by a reshuffling of Mike Onwenu from left guard — will have to be a priority in terms of expanding the passing game options for McDaniels and Jones.MORE NEWS: Stephon Gilmore Set To Begin Practicing With Panthers This Week
“There’s a lot of things I think you have to consider when you’re getting ready for an opponent,” McDaniels said with regard to his development of a game plan for this week. “You start with your own team, and then you factor in their scheme, their personnel, the problems that they present to you, and then you try to figure out the best way to approach the game plan on a day-to-day basis. So right now we’re working on first and second down, and hopefully we can put together a good plan and then we’ll move on to the other downs and situations in the game as we move through the week.”