Some thoughts following Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh:
1) Sunday’s performance by the New England Patriots in their 17-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers was a nice improvement over week one, with Mac Jones and the offense taking a slight step forward in the Steel City.
Jones put up 252-yards throwing the football while hitting six different receivers down in Pittsburgh, but it’s safe to say they still have some work to do. One issue that remains is that the calls are a little inconsistent and don’t seem to have a lot of flow. One series we see them run the football, while another we instead watch them get completely away from the run and throw it on every down. Sometimes we’ll see them run play action, others we’ll see just all straight drop backs.
There weren’t seemingly many possessions where we saw them mix things up, but we did see a little more variation at times compared to week one.
Still, there were quite a few plays where we didn’t see much spacing between routes, which is something we already heard other analysts point out after last week and there were a couple of different moments again on Sunday that stood out where that was the case. That made the windows tighter and it appeared to put Jones in some tough situations.
Obviously, just like the players, this transition is still one that Matt Patricia is still figuring out but it was good to see them at least take a step forward Sunday. However, they still appear to have a long way to go.
2) Unlike last season, one thing that’s been noticeable is the fact Jones doesn’t seem quite as confident or as cocky as he was at the beginning of his rookie year. Instead, Jones seems tentative and not quite seeing things as well as he did for much of last year.
It’s certainly a little odd and probably the only way to describe it is that Jones looks more robotic and less fluid, which seems to be slowing down his progressions and keeping him from seeing things as well. That likely tells us he’s thinking a little too much, which is different from what we saw in his rookie year. Last year, Jones was smooth and seemed to just read and react, which appeared to play to his strengths.
But that hasn’t been the case through two games. Just like last week, he had a tough interception on Sunday in Pittsburgh on a questionable throw and nearly had another on a pass he never should had attempted that also nearly resulted in disaster.
Whether it’s the back injury, the concern about his protection, or doubt in the offense they’re implementing, something remains off with the former Alabama quarterback. As a result, it’s likely going to put him in the spotlight for the wrong reasons based on the reactions people are beginning to have to some of the adversity he’s already started dealing with.
With a tough match-up ahead against a Baltimore team that is coming off a high-scoring loss at home against Miami Sunday, Jones is likely going to need to be at his best next weekend.
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3) At the same time, it’s good seeing Jones and Nelson Agholor get on the same page. Agholor seems to be playing with more confidence this year, which has been a pleasant surprise. Despite the rumors this offseason where he could have potentially been on the trade block, Agholor has instead become a key part of their offense.
He caught all six targets on Sunday, one of which included an impressive grab that ended up going for 44-yards for a touchdown. It was an incredible grab and for a team had ended up on the wrong end of some of the early contested passes we’ve seen, Agholor made some noise on probably one of the best plays we’ve seen in a while.
Despite the fact the ball was a bit underthrown, Jones still put the football in a spot high enough where Agholor was able to go up and make a play, which saw the veteran not only go up and make the reception, but he also finished things off by tearing himself away and finishing in the end zone.
As Jones continues navigating his way through things, the fact he’s getting this type of support from Agholor as well as Jakobi Meyers (9 receptions for 95-yards) definitely helps things. While they’ve yet to really play a complete football game offensively, there’s enough talent here for them to be productive if they can ever settle down and put it all together.
4) The verdict remains out on DeVante Parker, who hasn’t had a great start here in New Engand. Parker, so far, has been targeted a total of four times with just one reception and Jones has ended up with two picks while targeting him.
Jones got picked off again on Sunday, throwing a ball where it seemed like the two weren’t on the same page and Minkah Fitzpatrick ended up with the interception. He threw another to him later in the contest where it seemed like Jones was looking for a back-shoulder throw and Parker didn’t break off his route soon enough and the result was an incompletion.
What’s odd is that it seemed like Parker was supposed to take over N’Keal Harry’s role on the bottom of the depth chart, but instead he’s been inserted into roles that are instead affecting the production of other players in the offense. So far, this experiment is off to a bad start and it’s going to be interesting to see if they can figure things out before it potentially costs them.
5) Meanwhile, defensively, we saw a pretty good performance. They held the Steelers to just 168-yards passing and overall did a good job of limiting Pittsburgh’s production on the ground.
One player that really stood out was Jabril Peppers, who came in late in the first half and made some big plays that helped stall a Steelers drive where it seemed like they had picked up some momentum but instead helped force Pittsburgh to settle for a field goal.
We also saw a strong performance by Matthew Judon, who made some key plays including a sack at the end of the first half where it seemed like the Steelers were about to cross midfield and potentially give Chris Boswell a shot at hitting a long field goal. But Judon came through and dropped Mitchell Trubisky and knocked Pittsburgh out of field goal range, which helped New England hold onto a 10-3 edge heading into the half.
Two other guys who have also been solid were Deatrich Wise Jr, as well as Mack Wilson. New England has done a great job early on of getting pressure up front and Wise has played a big role in that, while Wilson’s athleticism has been on full display after he put forth another solid effort that included a diving deflection that resulted in an interception.
Those were plays we didn’t see last weekend, and seeing New England come up with some big plays ended up playing a key role in the victory.
Both Ja’Whaun Bentley and Kyle Dugger were seemingly banged up in this one, which will remain something to keep an eye on. However, we’ve seen a surprising effort through the first two games in what’s resulted in some pretty good play on that side of the football.
With a tough Ravens team set to visit next, this should certainly be a solid test for Bill Belichick’s team when they play the season opener at Gillette Stadium next Sunday.
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