For most NFL players, if they’re coming off of a decent performance during their rookie season, the expectations are generally pretty high the following year.
But for Mac Jones, he finds himself in a situation where the New England Patriots will likely sink or swim in 2022 based on how far he can take them.
That all starts on Sunday down in Miami, with head coach Bill Belichick making the decision to head down early ahead of what should potentially be a hot, humid, and rainy 90-degree day by kickoff time. Jones and the club spent Wednesday in Palm Beach getting in their first practice, as their arrival on Tuesday set them up for what players believed would be a normal schedule while eliminating the traditional travel day on Saturday.
Instead, players will now have a few days to settle in and be somewhat acclimated to the heat and humidity, as well as be fairly rested prior to getting on the team buses and heading to Hard Rock Stadium for their showdown with the Dolphins Sunday.
Head coach Bill Belichick said during his appearance on WEEI on Tuesday that aside from rookie wideout Tyquan Thornton, who was placed on IR prior to the start of the season and is expected to miss the early part of the year, he expects most players to “have a shot” to play on Sunday, which includes offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn and running back Ty Montgomery.
Having Wynn active would be good news for Jones, as New England’s offensive line was a big question mark during the preseason as the team experimented with zone blocking and various wrinkles in their offense. It ended up being somewhat of a disaster, with Jones even looking visibly frustrated out in Las Vegas, which included moments that even saw him throw a tablet and tear off and toss his playbook wristband.
Jones has admitted he needs to be better about keeping his emotions in check, which is obviously going to be important given that the quarterback sets the tone for the rest of the team. Belichick announced that Jones was among six players named captain on Tuesday, with both he and and center David Andrews named as the two on offense.
The second-year QB said on Tuesday that the first game will likely see some ups and downs, which just means it’s all about trying to stay focused and executing the way he knows they need to.
“I think sometimes Game One, there’s a lot of emotional stuff,” said Jones on Wednesday. “You want to focus more on the details of the plays and everything like that and let the emotions come and go. That’s how emotions are, they come and go. Energy and all that will be there. At the end of the day, it’s just the start of something. You have to learn from it and grow regardless of the results. So we’re going to go out there and compete and see how it goes. That’s all that you can ask for.”
This one likely won’t be easy. While Belichick has led his team to five-straight wins against rookie coaches, the Dolphins certainly have enough on their side of things to make this one difficult. Head coach Mike McDaniel is one of the top up and coming offensive minds in the game and has an advantage of having somewhat of the element of surprise on his side. Aside from the preseason, the Dolphins have yet to play a full 60-minutes of meaningful football, which means clubs don’t yet know what type of game plan he’ll put together. Granted, there are concepts, but not one that truly has his stamp on things.
We’ve seen New England struggle in the past against new schemes and teams they don’t really have any film for, which will likely see the Patriots have to adjust at various points in this one. As we also know, the Dolphins also hold the edge in terms of speed and talent on the offensive side of the football, which will make players like Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Cedrick Wilson among Miami’s offensive weapons who will likely be difficult to deal with.
Tagovaiola has had the Patriots’ number early in his career. (Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)
While Tua Tagovailoa still has plenty of questions, one noticeable difference this year is that unlike in past seasons, he appears to have the full support of his new coach, which is a big change considering that Miami was in the hunt for Deshaun Watson at one point last season. That whole debacle created a tough environment for the former Alabama standout, who has been inconsistent to this point since the club drafted him in 2020. Still, with all that behind him, McDaniel seems to be all in and the reports have been positive on the relationship between the two, which has also been echoed by Tagovailoa’s teammates.
To this point, he’s had success against New England in recent years. He’s 3-0 in their previous three meetings, but some of that success has come due to ball security issues on New England’s side, an unusual problem for Belichick-coached teams. The Patriots fumbled four times in the opener last year losing two of them, the second of which came on what could have potentially been Jones’ first game-winning drive.
After driving down to the Miami 11-yard line, Damien Harris lost the football on a 2-yard carry, which allowed the Dolphins to run out the clock and seal the 17-16 win at Gillette Stadium. That turnover robbed them of a chance to kick a go-ahead field goal and ended up being a loss that definitely would have helped them at the end of the season.
Turnovers got them in the second meeting as well, although the trouble started early. Miami drove 77-yards on 13 plays on their opening drive to go up 7-0, but Jones threw a pick-six on just their third play of the ensuing drive. That put them in a 14-0 hole they couldn’t come back from during a 33-24 loss.
Belichick mentioned both of those games on Tuesday, and said that’s something they need to be better about this time around.
“Well, there were a number of things that Miami did better than us in both games, but the second game, there were turnovers in that game too,” said Belichick. “We gave up the pick six at the beginning of the game and were down 14-0 early in the game. So it’s not the way we want to start and the September game wasn’t a good way to finish when we were down on the, whatever it was, the 15 yard line and lost the ball.”
“Turnovers and ball security are certainly a huge point of emphasis anytime we play the Dolphins and that was evident in our two games last year. So we’ve got to do a better job of with our ball security. That’s one of the things we’ll be working on.”
The first meeting alone provides enough evidence that being on their game is going to be a big key in this match-up. New England held the football for nearly 37 minutes in that contest, had 24 first downs compared to just 16 for Miami, as well as having converted 11-of-16 (68.8%) on third down compared to just 4-of-11 (36.4%) for Miami. They did everything right, except when it came to turnovers.
At the same time, the other stat that was an issue in that meeting was the fact New England was just 1-of-4 in red one opportunities compared to Miami converting both of theirs.
The team spent a lot of time during training camp working on red zone situations, which given their additions personnel-wise, should be a little better this year. Gone is N’Keal Harry, who given his size and how he played in college should have given New England a big strong receiver in scoring territory. Instead, Harry ended up being a liability in those situations, including the meeting against Dallas where he lined up wrong and forced a quick throwaway by Jones after they had worked their way down to the 10-yard line.
This time around, they have a full group of receiving threats as DeVante Parker essentially replaced Harry, giving them a pretty good group with Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in Jones’ arsenal. Add in tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and it’s a fairly solid group of players for the quarterback to work with, especially when Harry’s presence no longer leaves them one guy short each week.
They’ll eventually see the return of rookie second round pick, Tyquan Thornton, so there will be more improvement to come. If Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson can bring a similar threat in the ground game that they did last year, they’re better than a lot of teams in the league at that position talent-wise in what will potentially be the last season we see these two lining up together.
Obviously, that success starts with an offensive line that needs to be better than they were in the preseason, but overall, it’s a fairly balanced group that could definitely be formidable, especially with a schedule that during the middle of the year certainly works in their favor. With teams like Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and the Bears in the mix, this should be a year where they’ll have a chance each week. It’s just a matter of what they’re able to do with each opportunity.
At the end of the day, like with most teams, it starts with the quarterback. It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of someone his age, but the 24-year old is in this position because he proved before last season he was up for the challenge. With a full year of experience under his belt and the foundation he put together with an offense that returns almost all of its starters at the skill positions, there are definitely things to build on.
After a preseason that included a fair amount of forgettable moments in the brief time we saw the starting unit on the field, Jones said this week that it’s been just a matter of working things out and he’s confident they’ll be able to get it done.
“I think the uncertainty just has to clear itself up,” said Jones. “I think that’s just a mentality. I think it’s all about getting in the right spot, having confidence in one another and we’ve done that. Sometimes it’s not going to be a perfect clean picture right off the bat when something’s new a little bit. But I feel like we’ve made really good strides in practice and the games even.”
“When you really watch the tape to see how close we are. We’re just excited to get out there and put it on tape and see what we can do and adjust and just play for one another. That’s all it comes down to. The x’s and o’s are the x’s and o’s. But if we play for one another then good things can happen.”
Hopefully, that’s exactly what we’ll see when they take the field Sunday against the Dolphins.
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Season
Tags: Bill Belichick Hard Rock Stadium Mac Jones Miami Dolphins Mike McDaniel New England Patriots Patriots vs Dolphins Tua Tagovaiola