It’s no secret the New England Patriots passing game is struggling to create explosive plays. A lot goes into hitting on deep shots, and the Patriots current roster isn’t necessarily built for that. Even still, to help in the run game while opening up underneath, Mac Jones and his receiving corps need to unlock this portion of their playbook. Failure to do so will result in defenses becoming more aggressive, making life even more difficult. If the Patriots want to improve their deep passing attack, they’ll need to do it through Kendrick Bourne.
Why Kendrick Bourne Is the Key to Unlocking Patriots Deep Passing Game
Patriots Deep Passing Game Issues
Through the first three weeks, Jones is 3/18 for 53 yards on passes 20+ yards downfield. While the numbers seem paltry, a lot has to do with a patchwork offensive line. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien has relied on the intermediate passing attack to get the ball out of Jones’ hand quickly. The game plans have helped the Patriots move up and down the field consistently to start the season. But an offense without a deep ball threat needs to take care of the football and consistently execute at a high level. The Patriots have not been able to do that thus far.
With the Dallas Cowboys on the horizon, who are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Arizona Cardinals, expectations are the Patriots will be challenged. Even without their top cornerback, Trevon Diggs, out the Cowboys will likely play cover 1, man-to-man with a safety roaming free. That will allow them to be aggressive upfront and unleash Micah Parsons. The Patriots do not want that to happen.
For the Patriots to be able to avoid that scenario, they need to unlock the deep ball and strike fear in the opposing defense. Teams will start lining up in Cover 1 or Cover 0 and unleash fury on the offensive line. It may be easier said than done but the deep ball is key to the Patriots reaching their maximum potential this season.
For the Patriots, there is only one player they can rely on, Kendrick Bourne. With Tyquan Thornton still on injured reserve, Bourne is the only viable option. Pop Douglas is great underneath, but with his height, it would be too much to ask the weary rookie to add to his resume. Juju Smith-Schuster looks to be dealing with an injury as he doesn’t have the speed he did last season. Additionally, DeVante Parker is struggling to create separation.
Jones & Bourne’s Chemistry
So the responsibility falls on both Bourne and Jones’ shoulders to take the top off the coverage. They need to start connecting deep consistently. They have shown some chemistry and the ability to audible at the line. The below video from the Patriots Week 2 game highlights Jones understanding the coverage and giving Kendrick Bourne a hand signal pre-snap. That hand signal switched Bourne’s route from a slant to a slant-and-go.
The timing of when Jones throws the pass is where you can see the chemistry between the duo. Bourne runs a sluggo, with a 3-step stem and another three steps into the slant before breaking on the go. Jones starts his release precisely when Bourne’s third step hits on the slant, causing the cornerback to bite. It was a great recovery by the corner, but this is what is considered open in the NFL. This should have been completed.
Unfortunately, it was dropped. But as seen in the clip, there was a little grab by the cornerback that Bourne needs to fight through. Even still, players need to make plays in order for the passing game to take the next step. So far, nobody has taken control of the deep part of the field for the Patriots. Until they do so, defenses will have an easier time defending the running game and intermediate passing game.
Can Kendrick Bourne Be the Patriots Fix?
Kendrick Bourne has been the Patriots’ best receiver through the early part of the season. While he may not be the team’s best-blocking wideout, which the Patriots value, he still needs to be on the field more. The chemistry shown between Jones and Bourne should be enough to give him more opportunities downfield. Bourne also happens to be an excellent route runner who has proven he can get yards after the catch. All things the Patriots’ offense could use.
A few completions to Bourne deep and the offense completely opens up. Defenses would have to honor the deep ball, which would open up more space underneath. It would also make life easier for the running game. Any time a defense has to move a man out of the box to protect against the pass, the run game wins. The Patriots have shown the ability to game plan on week to week basis, having called 96 passes through the first two weeks for Jones and then a dedicated rushing attack in week 3.
Hopefully, this is the week Bill O’Brien utilizes Kendrick Bourne to unlock the Patriots’ deep passing game.
Main Photo: Brian Fluharty – USA Today Sports