Some thoughts on this Monday morning:
1) It’s hard not to look at Sunday’s game in New York and wonder how things got this bad when it comes to the quarterback situation in New England.
Mac Jones obviously got the start against the Giants and was atrocious, finishing 12-of-21 for 89-yards along with two interceptions. Both turnovers were just horrific. The first came as Jones was moving to his left and threw off his back foot and overthrew – and not by a little – a triple-covered Demario Douglas near the sideline on a 2nd-and-7 from their own 35.
As soon as it was picked, Jones immediately dropped his head with both hands on his waist, bending over and looking down at the ground for a moment as he likely realized what he had just done. He then jogged off to the sideline while watching the replay on the scoreboard, likely hoping that Giants defensive backs didn’t have both feet in bounds after he picked it off at New York’s 43.
Unfortunately, he did get both feet down, ending the drive for the Patriots and tallying Jones’ 11th interception of the season.
But the next interception was also frustrating. Facing a 3rd-and-4 from the Giants’ 23, New York blitzed linebacker Isaiah Simmons off the left edge, with Simmons coming in completely unblocked after New England had Demario Douglas lined up as a running back next to Jones.
Douglas came out of the backfield and didn’t turn around as Simmons blew past him, with Jones throwing off his back foot in his direction. Unfortunately, the ball landed in the hands of fellow linebacker Giants Bobby Okereke, who took off the other way before getting slowed up enough that Jones ultimately ended up being the one to get in and make the tackle, saving what appeared to have been another potential pick-six.
That was brutal, as the Patriots appeared to be on the verge of getting points and instead came up empty after that alignment left no one to pick up Simmons and it obviously played a role in the turnover.
2) Looking back at the film on Sunday, it’s still shocking to see what’s happened to Bailey Zappe. Zappe reportedly spent time during the offseason working on modifying his arm angle to throw around defensive linemen in the NFL, which he talked about in the preseason.
At the time, he was a mess, to the point he found himself waived by the time training camp was over.
Twelve weeks in, not much seems to have changed.
Watching Zappe’s starts against both Detroit and Cleveland last year, he had far more zip on his throws and did a good job utilizing what arm strength he had to get the ball out. On Sunday, the ball came out flat and with not much on it on a few occasions, including on his interception. Based on what we saw, how Zappe’s delivering the ball right now certainly isn’t well enough to be considered adequate in the NFL.
For a player who had an entire offseason to get stronger, he’s instead taken a dramatic step backward. With a full half to watch him play, it’s suddenly obvious why Jones has lasted this long and again got the starting nod on Sunday despite how bad he’s been in recent weeks.
Which begs the question, what exactly happened to the former fourth-round pick?
Fundamentals and mechanics have been what’s been hampering Jones all season, and seeing Zappe now suffering a similar issue has to leave you wondering who has been behind their drop-off. Zappe said at one point this year, he worked with his own throwing coach, while it’s unknown what Jones’ story is.
All we do know is that offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is the team’s quarterbacks coach, and both guys are a mess. Why that is, that’s tough to say. But it’s just stunning how both went from an adequate starter and a serviceable back-up to neither being able to play at all.
Zappe’s regression is disturbing. For a player who broke Joe Burrow’s touchdown record in college, he doesn’t look anywhere close to the player he was as a rookie. The only question now is going to be whether or not it’s fixable, as well as whether or not he’ll be given another opportunity next weekend to get it corrected.
(PHOTO: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
3) It’s hard not to be frustrated with the selection of Tyquan Thornton, who continues to be a disappointment.
While the club needed speed on offense, it’s not hard to figure out why the team ultimately picked Thornton over Georgia’s George Pickens. Pickens had a similar body style to N’Keal Harry, which likely had Belichick and the scouting department leery over picking that type of player.
The only problem is, Pickens was and is far more talented and, having played in the SEC, far more tested against better competition.
He’s also one of the reasons why a quarterback like Kenny Pickett has been able to guide Pittsburgh to a 7-4 record. Pickens currently leads Pittsburgh with 40 receptions for 662-yards and 3 touchdowns, including 3 catches for 58-yards during Sunday’s 16-10 Steelers win over the Bengals.
He’s strong, physical, has great body control, and also has terrific hands. He’s also the type of guy who can both make contested catches, as well as make big plays down the field.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, Thornton is fast, has questionable hands, and doesn’t have the frame or the strength to create much separation off the snap, nor has he shown the same explosiveness off the line he showed in college.
Part of that is because he came out of Baylor, which doesn’t face off against the same level of competition.
All we know at this point is that Mike Tomlin is sitting at 7-4 with a terrific group of offensive skill players that they’ve managed to put together. Sunday saw 2021 second-round pick Pat Freiermuth lead the team with nine receptions for 120 yards.
That was a breakout performance for the third-year tight end, who only had 9 catches for 60 yards coming into the game. Still, the Steelers seem to have always done well when it comes to drafting those guys, and it’s part of the reason why they’re still in contention.
4) Coming out of Sunday’s loss, the Patriots find themselves with the third overall pick, with both Carolina (1-10) and Arizona (2-10) currently sitting ahead of them.
Given that scenario, they would likely have access to at least one of the two quarterbacks available, with Carolina likely going with receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., provided they don’t decide to move on from Bryce Young after one season.
It’s too bad that both Jones and Zappe have each seemingly completely lost it, as it puts the pressure on potentially having to use that pick on a quarterback instead of having the luxury of potentially moving down and having two first round picks to address other needs.
Should things take a dramatic turn and New England goes on a miraculous run to close out the year, maybe that changes. But it’s unfortunate that instead of having a foundation to build off, they don’t seem to have anything there at this point.
Instead, the need for help at that position will likely remain a priority since neither appears to be a reasonable enough answer with six games still left to play.
5) One bright spot Sunday was the fact both Ezekiel Elliott and Rhamondre Stevenson ran hard on Sunday, with New England running far more plays under center compared to recent weeks. That seemed to help both players build a better head of steam compared to running out of shotgun.
It certainly appeared to help, as Stevenson finished the afternoon nearly eclipsing the 100-yard mark after he ended up with 98 yards on 21 carries (4.7 avg), along with a touchdown. Elliott carried 9 times for 46 yards (5.1 avg), and it was arguably the best overall performance we’ve seen from the ground game this season.
They leaned on Stevenson heavily in the final quarter of play, with the veteran back carrying seven times for 31 yards in the fourth quarter. That also included a 13-yard carry on the final possession to set up Chad Ryland’s ill-fated 35-yard field goal attempt that would have forced overtime.
One glaring stat was the fact that Stevenson caught nine passes for just 9 yards, which included two that went for negative yards (-6 and -5). Stevenson caught one of those from each quarterback, and it’s becoming painfully obvious that Patriots have been forced to go to short lateral throws due to the fact neither QB has had much success getting the ball down the field.
Obviously, teams have caught on to that, and unless they start figuring out a way to take some shots, these next five weeks, which include match-ups against the Chargers, Steelers, Chiefs, Broncos, and Bills, are likely going to be ugly.
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