Some news and notes on this Thursday:
Heading into Sunday’s game against the Chargers, it looks like a change at quarterback to begin the game may finally be coming.
After Mac Jones was unable to take advantage of what could potentially have been his final opportunity to start on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it appears it will be Bailey Zappe who will get the starting nod this weekend against Los Angeles.
According to reporters who were present for the early part of practice Wednesday, Zappe was the player working with the first team offense, with Malik Cunningham working behind him at the backup spot. Jones was on hand but reportedly didn’t take any snaps, so it appears he’s slipped down the depth chart to the third spot as the club is finally shaking things up there heading into Week 13.
If Zappe is the one under center this weekend, it will be the second-year QB’s first start since October 16th of last season, which was a 38-15 blowout win over the Browns out in Cleveland.
Zappe’s 2-0 as a starter for the Patriots, having also won his first NFL start the week before at Gillette Stadium in a 29-0 rout of the Lions.
Over his two starts, Zappe completed 41-of-55 (74.5%) for 497-yards along with three touchdowns and one interception.
Bill Belichick told reporters prior to the club’s practice when it came to the quarterback position, he wasn’t going to make any announcements but that the plan was to see how practice went as they continue deciding how they would proceed into this weekend.
“We’ll see how practice goes, see if everybody is ready to go,” said Belichick. “Hopefully everybody is ready to go, see what the injury situation is, and we’ll go with who we think is best on Sunday.”
Either way, it appears a change is coming. Unfortunately for Jones, he’ll now be a spectator for the foreseeable future as the club tries to salvage what’s left of this 2023 season.
Looking at Jones’ totals through 11 games this season, it’s frustrating to see the overall regression he’s undergone through his three seasons in the league.
Through 11 games in 2022, which excludes the three games he was injured against Green Bay, Detroit, and Cleveland, and includes their Week 13 game against Buffalo, their Week 14 game at Arizona, and their Week 15 game at Las Vegas to fill that gap, Jones had seven fewer touchdowns and the same number of interceptions (8) he threw as a rookie.
One season later, Jones has obviously slipped further. He’s added a couple of more touchdowns, but he’s also thrown four more interceptions. He’s also seen his completion percentage drop, along with his yardage total.
Mac Jones Through 11 Games:
2021: 245/349 (70.2%) 2540yds 14 TDs, 8 INTs
*2022: 221/336 (65.8%) 2310yds 7 TDs, 8 INTs
2023: 224/345 (64.9%) 2120yds 10 TDs, 12 INTs
(*Includes at MIA, @ PIT, BAL, CHI, @ NYJ, IND, NYJ, @ MIN, BUF, @ AZ, @ OAK & excludes @ GB, DET, @ CLE) pic.twitter.com/DkY4niY0Dq
— PatsFans.com (@PatsFans) November 30, 2023
For a player who came into the league known for not necessarily having a big arm but being incredibly smart and extremely accurate with the football, it’s disappointing that both his accuracy and his decision-making dropped off that significantly.
He’s clearly a mess at this point, and removing him from the equation for this season is certainly the right decision.
Whether or not he took his final snap as a Patriot last weekend remains to be seen, but it’s unfortunate since the club will now likely have to dip back into the quarterback pool and start over.
That’s going to force them to use resources that they could have used elsewhere, along with starting from scratch as they try to get things right on that side of the football.
Former USC quarterback Matt Cassel spoke to NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry this week on Perry’s Next Pats Podcast talking about current USC prospect Caleb Williams, who is expected to be a top prospect in the NFL Draft next April.
Cassel, who is also obviously a former Patriots quarterback, has covered Williams in his own work with NBC, and spoke to Perry this week about the Trojans QB.
During the interview, Cassel was asked about what he felt might be a concern about Williams coming into the draft. He believes that the USC standout sometimes trusts his athletic ability too much, to the point where he tries to improvise instead of just running the play.
“I think one of his biggest weaknesses is that he has so much confidence in himself to extend the play, to make the big play, that sometimes he’ll bypass a wide-open wide receiver,” said Cassel. “Like, I was watching some film on him earlier in the season, we had him for the USC/Notre Dame [game], which wasn’t his best game, don’t get me wrong, and Notre Dame did a great job. But watching that film prior to that, there would be a go route on the outside and Tahj Washington was running an out route, and he was open right now, but for some reason, he bypassed him, and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to check down the field for something,’ held onto the ball a little bit longer, but then he extended the play, made seven people miss, turned around, and found a guy in the back of the end zone.”
“So there are times where that confidence that he has in his own skillset, his ability to extend plays and look for that big play downfield, he’ll bypass something that is within the structure of the offense. And I think it’s hard sometimes as a coach because you’re looking at him and when you see what his abilities allow you to do and how many big plays that you have, to say, “Hey, you’ve just got to throw the out route right here, alright?” But it resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass, which was a highlight reel play. So I think that’s the challenge when you take a guy like Caleb Williams, is how, one, are you going to structure the offense to fit his skillset? Two, how can you make him play disciplined within the offensive structure?”
That’s definitely a concern, as when Williams enters the league he’ll suddenly be going against far more athletic players than he faced in college on defense, with far more complex defensive schemes.
Those types of quarterbacks often try to do too much, and guys like Patrick Mahomes, who is also incredibly smart and sees the field extremely well, are essentially unicorns. Mahomes is among the few players we’ve ever seen who can be both athletic enough to improvise, but also smart enough to stay within himself rather than forcing mistakes. That’s also why he’s one of the few athletic-style of QBs to win a ring, with Mahomes already tallying two during his young career.
Williams doesn’t face teams in the SEC, which tends to churn out a lot of early-round prospects. Many of them are now in the NFL, which begs the question about the level of competition he’s gone up against and how he’ll fare when he gets there.
These are decisions New England’s scouting department will have to explore if/when the time comes and the opportunity presents itself.
For now, through 12 weeks, they’re sitting with the number three pick, with both Arizona (2-10) and Carolina (1-10) currently ahead of them.
The Patriots added a kicker, with the club reportedly signing Matthew Wright to their practice squad. Wright is a former undrafted free agent who has already spent time with a handful of teams in the NFL and, according to Houston reporter Aaron Wilson, was part of a group of special teams players the club worked out on Tuesday. … Belichick was asked if the club planned to stick with Chad Ryland, who missed the potential game-tying 35-yarder this weekend against the Giants. “He’s on the roster, yeah,” said Belichick. He also added that the club had worked out some players, saying, “We worked some guys out. We usually do that anyway, this time of year. Look, the guys that are here need to be ready to go. That’s what everybody’s job is.” Either way, it looks like Wright will now push Ryland to keep his current role. … According to Doug Kyed, the Patriots have also added wide receiver Matthew Sexton to their practice squad. Wilson reported earlier this week that Sexton was part of the group of 13 players New England worked out on Tuesday. Sexton spent time with Pittsburgh and was most recently with Atlanta, and Kyed points out, Sexton also has some experience in the return game. He may end up providing some help as, according to Wednesday’s injury report, Demario Douglas was in concussion protocol to start the week.
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