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Josh McDaniels Denies He's Holding Mac Jones Back at All

On this week's "Do Your Pod," (which will be out tomorrow but you can catch last week's here) we talked at length, as you would assume, about Mac Jones and whether or not Josh McDaniels' is keeping the training wheels on him. 

There's plenty of reason to assume that's been the approach so far. A quarterback who made throws all over the secondary in competitive team drills, joint practices and preseason games has seemingly not been looking deep much at all, defaulting instead to checkdowns, bubbles and screens as a first option. At least that's how it's looked from the sofa. And the stat sheets. Consider:

--Through two games and 69 attempts, Jones has yet to throw a pass into the end zone. His lone touchdown was caught by Nelson Agholor at the 3. 

--Jones has the sixth highest completion percentage in the league, but is 24th in yards per attempt.

--According to Next Gen Stats, his intended average air yards is 5.6, which is fifth fewest in the league (behind Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett). 

--His leader in receiving yards is James White

--Last season, Agholor led the league with 18.7 yards per reception. As we speak, he's at 11.6, which is good for 60th. 

--On deep balls, defined targeting a receiver 20+ yards upfield, Pro Football Focus (paywall) gives Jones a grade of 91.1, which is 11th best in the league. And credits him with a passer rating of 104.2, which is tied for 13th. But he's only attempted 5 such throws, which puts him 25th.

--Also from PFF: His average depth of target is 23.2 yards, which puts him 33rd in a league with 32 starting QBs.

I mean, I'm no Bob Ross, but that paints a landscape of calm, safe, easy throws.

Which would be fine, if that's your thing. And in a league where we're seeing rookie quarterbacks dipped in au jus and tossed into the lion enclosure before they appear to be ready (looking at you, Jaguars and Jets), there's for sure a defensible logic to letting yours develop at a ... let's call it deliberate pace. Your toddler might be all proud thinking she's walking up a storm in that little roller contraption with the wheels on the bottom and crushed Cheerios all over the tray. But that doesn't mean you should be in any kind of a rush to take the gate off the basement stairs and tell her to go nuts. 


Still, that's more or less what Josh McDaniels said in his virtual press conference. Where once again he looks like he's being held at the point of some AK-47s and about to hold up today's newspaper:

McDaniels: “I trust him. Completely. …

“I think protection is one of the discussions you have to be aware of. 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, 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.”

“Believe me, there’s not a whole lot that we’re holding back for him. 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.”

Point well taken. As much as I'm semi-frustrated with the fact the team is just 2-for-7 in the red zone after watching Jones put balls in the proper hands in all parts of the end zone in July and August, he's had less protection than Mr. & Mrs. Robert Salleh. PFF has the Patriots pass blocking ranked in the middle of the pack, but I beg to differ. Or I'll assume that the middle of the line is pulling grades that are carrying the whole group project because the tackles have been an enormous liability. Trent Brown has been on the field for seven snaps and his replacements, Justin Herron and Yasir Durant have taken turns trying to win the Defensive End Association's Good Guy of the Year Award. And Isaiah Wynn has been a major disappointment thus far. Only nine tackles in football have given up more than the seven pressures he's allowed, and only three have been flagged more than his three times. All in just 134 snaps. Last year he took 641 snaps, only gave up 16 pressures and committed just two penalties. 

So if Jones isn't being told to hold back, if all this checking down is a reflection of what he's seeing in the relatively short time he has to throw, we should all be able to live with that. The Patriots have always coached their quarterbacks to think in terms of how they'll never walk off the field on 4th down with the punting team coming on saying, "I just cost my team the game." Force balls into tight windows or hold them too long and get strip sacked, and they'll be saying exactly that.

So now this all circles back to Jones and McDaniels and how they're going to address it going forward. Because constantly working the flats and curls works fine against a Jets team that was only too happy to give the ball away like an old pair of jorts. But it's not going to get them to the playoffs. And it's not the best use of Jones' skills. Or of Agholor's, Kendrick Bourne's, Jonnu Smith's or Hunter Henry's. You know, the nice deep threats and reliable red zone targets your owner paid all those KraftBucks too. In the short term, they have to clean up the pass protection. Then in the middle term, find a way to win matchups in the second and third levels. And in the long term, let the franchise do what he did against the best competition in college and all through preseason and use the entire field. 


All that said, this is first world problem to have. I'd rather our OC is addressing this instead of how long he's going to be putting up with all the rookie mistakes like is happening elsewhere.