Some additional thoughts one day removed from Sunday’s mess against the Saints:
1) If Bill Belichick has any hope of salvaging the 2023 season, it’s going to require somewhat of a miracle on his offensive line in order for them to have any chance of turning things around.
The New England Patriots have yet to be able to come up with a solid nucleus with that group, with injuries and subpar play continuing to plague them. Trent Brown was not good on Sunday, and neither was Vederian Lowe at the tackle positions, while Atonio Mafi and Reilly Reiff each also had trouble keeping the Saints from getting penetration. Reiff spelled Mafi at left guard after allowing the Saints to get the hit on Mac Jones that factored in his pick-six, before having to move to right guard when Mike Onwenu had to leave Sunday’s game, and the results were bad everywhere.
They couldn’t get their running game going. They couldn’t protect Jones. And the result, like last week, was essentially another frustrating outing.
Brown’s been inconsistent, and Belichick went to that well one too many times trying to come up with a solution at left tackle. After trying to move Sidy Sow to right tackle during training camp, that didn’t work out, and it left the Patriots making the trade for both Lowe and Tyrone Wheatley Jr, the latter of which doesn’t seem ready to play while the former has struggled against good pass rushers the last two weeks.
As things currently stand, it’s looking less and less likely that Jones remains under center for the entirety of 2023, but given who is lining up in front of him, it’s tough to say how much better things might go. Both Jones and Bailey Zappe did have moments where they were able to have a little time to get the ball downfield, but the two appeared aware of the rush and it certainly impacted them. One notable moment was the fact Zappe had someone coming straight for him on the misfire to Hunter Henry, with Zappe overshooting him.
Jones had similar moments, with the pocket collapsing on him on his own misfire to Henry on the first possession facing a 3rd-and-2. He also had Marcus Davenport bearing down on him up the middle on the 3rd-and-11 where he connected with Mike Gesicki, but wasn’t able to step up to get enough on it in order to lead Gesicki out far enough for the tight end to pick up the first down.
These are all issues that are going to need to be fixed, regardless of whether it’s Zappe or Will Grier who ultimately end up under center. Teams so far this season have had the edge against New England’s group up front, with their running game having seemingly been neutralized.
If you can’t open up any holes and you can’t keep the quarterback from getting hit, it’s hard to execute consistently on offense.
Needless to say, barring some serious changes, it’s likely a problem that is only going to continue.
2) Ja’Whaun Bentley played well yesterday, with the veteran leading the Patriots with 11 tackles along with a sack and he was all over the field.
With Matthew Judon sidelined, it was Bentley who really upped his game, with Anfernee Jennings and Deatrich Wise Jr. also helping to carry some of that load.
Belichick was complimentary of Bentley during his appearance on The Greg Hill Show on WEEI, praising how far he’s come since he’s been here.
“Bent’s had a good career. He’s gotten better every year,” said Belichick. “He’s improved physically. He’s improved his awareness. Has a lot of leadership. He’s a team captain and gives us great leadership, and really a competitive guy, good in all situations. He’s gone from a rotational player to really a full-time player who rarely comes off the field.”
But overall, the veteran did a good job communicating with everybody, and the defense actually did well despite the final score.
The biggest problem they faced on Sunday was the fact the offense couldn’t stay on the field. New Orleans held a significant advantage in time of possession, holding the football for 39:34 compared to just 20:26 as New England managed just five offensive first downs all afternoon, including only one in the second half.
That’s a recipe for disaster with any defense and on Sunday, it was the Patriots’ offense more than the Saints, who ultimately wore them down.
The Patriots ground game contined to struggle Sunday (PHOTO:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
3) Anyone hoping for outside help on offense might continue to be a little frustrated, given Belichick’s comments on Monday on WEEI.
Belichick was asked whether, “on the offensive side of the football, is this roster good enough to be winning football games?” and his answer seems to be trying to get the guys he has to simply execute better.
“Well, we need to play better than we’re playing,” he said. “Play and coach better.”
He was then asked, “You went out and did a deal on the other side of the football last week. Is that something you might look at this week?”
Belichick’s reply remained the same.
“I mean, right now, I’m focused on getting our team to perform better than we’ve performed,” he said.
How he’s going to do that, potentially being down two offensive players this week if Demario Douglas and JuJu Smith-Schuster are both sidelined (they each left Sunday’s game after being placed in concussion protocol), with Douglas being his most explosive one, is definitely going to be difficult.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Expecting any more from the group he has feels like a longshot. He’s already seen consecutive games with a reduced scoring output, with the last two seeing them come out on the wrong end of blowout losses.
As a result, while it’s tough not to admire Belichick’s optimism, it feels like Josh McDaniels could be ripe for improving to 2-0 against his team as Raiders head coach this weekend.
4) This was mentioned last night, but one of the most frustrating aspects of this entire situation has been the lack of improvement by Mac Jones this week, especially after a week of talking about getting back to fundamentals.
Those were a point of emphasis during Bill O’Brien’s press conference last week, but on Sunday, it just ended up being a lot more of the same.
Jones threw a lot of passes flat-footed, falling backward, with the third-year quarterback doing a lot of the same things that have plagued him the last two weeks.
The killer on Sunday was the missed pitch to Rhamondre Stevenson at the start of the third quarter on just their third play from scrimmage.
Facing a 3rd-and-one, the Patriots seemingly lined up for a quarterback sneak, with the club instead making a great call on a pitch to the right to Stevenson, who likely would have both had the first down and potentially a touchdown given how the Saints covered that play.
Instead, Jones badly missed the pitch, and then made arm motions indicating blame on Stevenson.
The Saints recovered the football and the Patriots went back to the bench, with Jones on one end and Stevenson on the other as the camera zoomed in and saw Stevenson looking in Jones’ direction multiple times looking extremely frustrated.
Jones should be frustrated, but he’s also not showing any accountability. (PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
5) Worse yet, his press conferences appeared to be more of the same. Not much accountability, not a lot of pointing the finger at himself. Just a player who seems more frustrated with his situation than his own play.
Granted, everyone knows the offensive line is a mess and that he’s limited in terms of who he has to throw to. But Bailey Zappe’s comments after Sunday’s game were a sharp contrast to Jones’ own words, and were certainly notable.
Zappe was asked after the game if some of the missed throws came down to a timing issue, but he instead pointed the finger at himself and that he needs to spend time working with those guys to figure out how they prefer to run the play so he can be on the same page, if there is a next time.
“I mean, it could be a timing thing,” said Zappe. “Like I said, it’s up to me now to get with those guys and get extra reps. Get with those guys … like KB on the cross, figuring out how he likes to run it so I can do a better job putting the ball out there and let him catch it and run with it after.”
“That’s all my fault. I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to make the throw, and maybe that comes down to just getting with those guys after practice, before practice, this week.”
Zappe was asked if he got more reps in practice last week and he avoided the question, just as he did when he was asked if he would see more reps this week. But the thing that stood out was the final answer when he was asked if he felt the problems were widespread.
He, again, put the plays he missed on himself, with the focus now being to get better should his opportunity come again.
“That’s up to the coaches to figure out,” said Zappe on the team’s problems. “I’m worried about my job, and that’s to make throws, and I missed two today that could have been really big plays. So like I said previously, I’m going to try to get with the guys and get everything down, timing-wise.”
Credit Zappe for knowing that there needs to be some self-reflection vs just frustration. Jones is trending in the opposite direction, especially given the comments that surfaced in the Fox Sports article by Henry McKenna where Jones appears more frustrated by who he has around him than with himself.
While he’s not necessarily wrong, he also needs to realize that he needs to fix himself in order to have a shot at turning things around. As of now, his teammate appears to be the one who is a little more self-aware, and that’s definitely a problem.
This is a team that’s a mess and it’s safe to say, it’s going to be a rough road as they attempt to navigate through what will likely be some serious turbulence over the next 12 weeks.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary