New England Patriots: Debunking Mac Jones’s downfield throws criticism

Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

It’s time to debunk the criticism of New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones’ not throwing the ball downfield enough to suit some of his detractors.

That’s the criticism du jour of the young Patriots’ slinger who already has haters slinging it in his direction about that long-distance passing.

Critics criticize, it’s what sports commentators do. It’s part of the genre. I get it. But let’s get real about this one, about Mac Jones not throwing enough downfield, please.

Let’s get into some of the reasons why this criticism is bunk, as though Jones couldn’t or wouldn’t throw downfield if the opportunity presented itself.

Why this criticism of New England Patriots Mac Jones is unwarranted

First, an acknowledgment of some criticism of a specific play. Jones didn’t uncork a pass to a wide-open Hunter Henry for a likely touchdown against the Jets.

That’s accurate. But why was that? That’s where the rubber meets the road. It wasn’t the missed opportunity that was the key issue (although it was there). Not at all.

On that particular play before the half (Jones got an intentional grounding on that one), his offensive line let him down. The offensive line has plagued the Patriots’ offense since starting right tackle Trent Brown went down in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.

To get technical, the unit hasn’t executed nearly well enough at all in the first two games. Brown’s absence has been debilitating for the New England Patriots offense.

On that particular play, the usually steady and reliable second-year guard, Michael Onwenu, was beaten badly on a rush and his man had a clear lane to Jones.

Supposedly, Jones was supposed to uncork the ball before he was going to get clobbered in the pocket. Instead, he moved to his left and uncorked a beautiful spiral about six yards into the turf.

That was the intentional grounding. Admittedly on that play, if he had somehow seen Henry and been able to uncork a longer throw it would have been six points. Point given.

Perhaps a Tom Brady or an Aaron Rodgers would have made that throw. Maybe. But to expect that level of excellence from a rookie in his second game is unrealistic at best. And unfair.

On the plus side, he didn’t try to force a ball into another receiver and risk a possible interception either. It’s called ball protection and he’s terrific at that facet of the game.

Want the opposite? OK, think of New York Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson who was slinging it downfield all over the yard last Sunday, mostly to Patriots defensive backs.

The New England Patriots overarching problem on offense is upfront

Mac Jones has been harassed and harried on virtually every passing play. The thought of a “clean pocket’ is mirage-like for this iteration of a purportedly top-five O-line.

The team has several ways to rectify the situation. The first would be to get Brown back healthy. That’s the easiest and best alternative.

Yet, he has a calf injury. That injury is tricky for any player. For one who weighs in at 380 pounds or so, it’s a no small issue.

The second is more readily available to the New England Patriots coaching staff yet they refuse to implement it. That would be to deploy and redeploy their best options at two positions.

They can slot Michel Onwenu into the right tackle spot seamlessly. He played there virtually all last season. Then, they can place Ted Karras, a free agent acquisition who was brought back for just this type of scenario, at the left guard position. Yet they haven’t.

Jones hasn’t had time to throw deep and he won’t risk a turnover. That’s to his credit. The second reason is that for the most part, his receivers can’t get open.

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Yet, even if they do, the first reason won’t allow Jones time to make it happen. Those are the reasons why Mac Jones currently can’t throw downfield (and thankfully doesn’t and won’t).

Get the offensive line fixed and the long passes will follow if someone can get open. Meanwhile, give the two-game rookie a break.

After all, Jones has completed just under 74 percent of his passes. How terrible is that?