New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is in his third season for the franchise. Since entering the NFL he has a 16-17 record (including playoffs), which is the best of any quarterback from the 2021 draft class. After a rookie season that saw Jones named to the Pro Bowl, there was plenty of regression in year two. Things may have been out of his control, but the question still remains going into year three, is Mac Jones a franchise quarterback?
The Patriots would love for Jones to answer emphatically in 2023. The current roster construction clearly favors the defensive side of the ball. But there are plenty of skill players on offense that are more than capable. It’s now up to Jones to prove he can take the reins and catapult the Patriots into serious contention. But is it in him?
Quarterback Mac Jones Faces A Do or Die 2023
We all know last year was a wash. The truth is, it was neither Matt Patricia’s nor Mac Jones’ fault. Both were put in an impossible position by Bill Belichick. To his credit, the head coach didn’t waste any time in rectifying his mistake.
Enter Bill O’Brien.
Mac Jones couldn’t have asked for a better coordinator entering his third season. While three offensive coordinators in as many seasons is not ideal, O’Brien’s track record in his first season when taking over either as offensive coordinator or the head coach has been spectacular.
After leaving the Patriots in 2011, he landed in an unenviable situation as the head coach at Penn State. He was able to block out the noise and lead the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record. His first season with the Houston Texans saw them finish 9-7. This was a vast improvement from the 2-14 season before O’Brien’s arrival. Additionally, in his first season as offensive coordinator with the Alabama Crimson Tide, they finished with a 13-2 record.
O’Brien will undoubtedly set the table but it’s now up to Jones to prepare the meal and feast.
Taking The Next Step
Franchise quarterbacks raise the execution level of a roster. New Englanders have seen this firsthand for nearly two decades with Tom Brady. So with arguably the most talented roster he’s had in the NFL, it is up to Jones to elevate the current Patriots iteration.
In order to do that, first things first, Jones needs to ditch the recoil. He has a propensity to stop his momentum after a throw and quickly start backpedaling.
An important note is that this action does not have anything to do with offensive line play. Jones’ Alabama film shows this same recoil action. At times it might be for protecting himself, but as you watch more closely, you’ll notice he does it even from a clean pocket.
A quarterback cannot consistently hit tight window throws in the NFL with this motion. Jones’ velocity suffers when he doesn’t fully commit to a throw. So trying to fit it in a tight window when you’re getting in your own way is a recipe for disaster.
Jones has a serviceable arm and can deliver strikes when he puts everything into his throws. It just doesn’t happen consistently. He might be able to get away with it on shorter throws or when a throw requires some finesse. But on the passes that need to be zipped, he’s inconsistent.
The more he eliminates this from his throwing mechanics, the more he can consistently deliver on throws down the field.
Additionally, Jones needs to take care of the football. Untimely mistakes have been costly during his young career. The recoil comes into play here as well. Jones needs to find that balance where he can push the envelope while at the same time protecting the football.
Until he starts to limit the turnovers (25 INTs and 12 fumbles over his two-plus seasons) he won’t be able to take over games. Again, the ability is there between his brain and right arm, but until he pieces it all together he’ll continue to be just a game manager.
Against the Eagles in week 1, the opportunity was there to snatch the victory. The Patriots were not able to do so and a big reason was Mac Jones’ play early on in the contest. Excuses can be made for his teammate’s play, but a franchise quarterback has the innate ability to overcome deficiencies and lift the other 10 players on the field to play at a higher level.
Mac Jones Needs to Rely on His Strengths
Leadership, accuracy, and anticipation are all traits Jones needs to rely on. These were all key factors in New England using a first-round selection on Jones.
Jones has all the intangibles he just needs to put them all together at a more consistent level than we’ve seen. He has an uncanny ability to read a defense and has shown he can get the offense into the right play. His processing speed in Week 1 happened at lightning speed. Fortunately for the Patriots, it will only get faster the longer he works with O’Brien.
In this clip, Dan Orlovsky explains Jones changing the route for a receiver on the right side of the formation. This subtle change to the play call helps keep the safety to that side occupied. This creates a bigger window to hit and Jones does easily for a touchdown.
It’s nice to see Mac Jones back and looking like Mac Jones for @Patriots
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) September 14, 2023
As Orlovsky mentions, this is big-time stuff. And it happens in the most important area on the field, the red zone. It also appears O’Brien is going to dust off some old concepts from previous Patriots playbooks. This was the “Pinwheel” concept the Patriots love to use in the high red zone. After this result, may be time to go deeper into the archives.
This is a variation of the #Patriots “Pinwheel” concept from bunch they use in the high red zone
Great man beater – which you usually see as you get closer to the end zone
Mac Jones changes the backside concept which helps hold the safety to that side
— Mark Dhooge (@Mark_Dhooge) September 14, 2023
With the Patriots’ defense looking like a top-5 unit once again, Jones needs to cash in once they reach the red zone. With execution like this, the Patriots should fare well.
Jones is a winner, as evidenced by his 13-0 record and National Championship Junior season at Alabama. For many reasons, it just hasn’t translated into the NFL yet. Could this be the year he puts it all together?
Mac Jones has all the makings of a franchise quarterback. Cleaning up his throwing mechanics will go a long way in helping him become a complete, consistent, and accurate passer. Between an experienced offensive coordinator and a retooled roster, it’s now time for Mac Jones to show he’s the future of the New England Patriots.
With all the pieces in place, is this the year Mac Jones showcases his abilities and establishes himself as a franchise quarterback?
Main Photo: Kris Craig – USA Today Sports