The last two weeks have been a lesson in patience for Mac Jones.
Since going 1-of-11 on downfield throws against the Saints, Jones and the Patriots have taken their passing game back to the basics. They’re attacking chiefly by play-action throws on early downs, quick-hitters out of spread sets and the occasional screen. Nothing is too aggressive.
Once Jones threw his lone interception early in the third quarter at Houston, the Pats reined their rookie in already further. He took six straight dropbacks compared to five play-action throws and four screens the rest of the way. Their game-winning excursion consisted mostly of nine runs, and Jones’ dropbacks netted 32 yards. The Patriots also took advantage of a roughing the passer penalty that revived what should have been a three-and-out in the final minutes.
Because while they managed Jones, the Pats waited for Houston, one of the league’s least-talented and most-penalized teams that’s also led by a first-year coach, to implode. The Texans obliged. That’s life in the NFL.
Opponents have been counting on the Patriots to do the same ever since they fumbled four times in the season opener. Until they eliminate those turnovers — two more came Sunday — the Pats will suffer tug-of-wars with teams like Houston.
What happens next — against the other team from Texas, the 4-1 Cowboys — will show much more about where Jones and the Patriots stand nearing midseason.
Until then, here’s what the film revealed about Sunday’s win in Houston:
modificated completion percentage: 82.1%
Under pressure: 4-7, 29 yards, INT
Against the blitz: 5-5, 60 yards
Behind the line: 4-4, 5 yards
0-10 yards: 11-12, 87 yards
10-19 yards: 8-10, 139 yards, TD, INT
20+ yards: 0-2
Notes: Jones started 9-of-9, hitting four slant throws and two receivers in the flat, plus a seam pass, a screen and one reappearance. He wasn’t pressured at all until the 2-minute drill that closed the first half, when trouble first started brewing. After Jakobi Meyers’ brutal downfield drop, Jones threw a dangerous ball that was almost picked over the middle.
He finished with two dropped interceptions and a third pass that could have been turned over. Jones admonished himself for that carelessness in interviews Friday. Lucky for him, the Texans vacated the middle during virtually every play-action pass on first down, which helped him rediscover his rhythm and direct four scoring drives by the end of the game.
TE Hunter Henry
Henry’s scored touchdowns in consecutive weeks and taken over most of the tight end reps in 11 personnel (groupings with one running back and one tight end.). After his game-tying score, Henry caught Jones’ final pass, a third-and-6 throw that moved the Patriots into Houston territory. He also snatched two other passes that resulted in first downs.
LT Justin Herron
Putting a rough start to the season behind him, Herron allowed only one hurry in 33 pass-blocking snaps and run-confined better than he has all year. The Patriots needed a major lift from their backup offensive linemen, and that’s exactly what Herron provided on Jones’ blind side.
LB Matt Judon
A weekly important of the studs section, Judon casually additional two more sacks, a QB hit and one hurry in Houston. It’s scary to imagine where the Pats defense would be without its highest-paid player.
CB Joejuan Williams
Williams started in place of Jalen Mills, who was ruled out hours before kickoff with a hamstring injury. It would be a surprise to see him start again.
He allowed a 37-yard touchdown in the second half off a flea flicker, his last defensive break. Earlier, he gave up a long completion on fourth-and-2, which caused the staff replacing him with Jonathan Jones outside. Williams finished with two tackles.
CB J.C. Jackson
The Texans’ picked up several first downs at Jackson’s expense, starting with a defensive pass interference penalty on the first excursion. He also gave up a touchdown to practice-squad wideout Chris Moore. This was not the performance expected of a thriving No. 1 corner.
S Kyle Dugger
Dugger was in coverage on Davis Mills’ first touchdown pass, and allowed a third-down conversion on another pass to a backup tight end later in the game. He allowed a team-worst five receptions, with Houston’s offense targeting him for a second straight season. Dugger defended the run well, but the Pats need more from someone playing 76% of all defensive snaps.
- Personnel breakdown: 48% of snaps in 11 personnel, 23% in 12 personnel, 21% in 21F personnel, 5% in 21H personnel and 3% in jumbo personnel.*
- Personnel production: 6.0 yards/play in 11 personnel, 5.2 yards/play in 12 personnel, 7.2 yards/play in 21F personnel, 1.6 yards/play in 21H personnel and 1 yard/play in jumbo personnel.
- Pressure rate allowed: 25.8%
- Play-action rate: 39%
- Yards per carry: 4.2
- First downs: 56% run (3.8 yards per play), 44% pass (7.6 yards per play)
- Third downs: 6-11
- Red-zone efficiency: 2-5
- Broken tackles: Damien Harris 6, Rhamondre Stevenson 3, Brandon Bolden 2, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith
- Sacks allowed: James Ferentz
- QB hits allowed: Team, Yodny Cajuste, Hunter Henry, Ferentz
- Hurries allowed: Justin Herron, David Andrews, Cajuste
- Run stuffs allowed: Team 4, Ferentz
- Drops: Jakobi Meyers
- Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels opened with an interesting ridge, trying Henry, Smith and Stevenson at fullback during the opening excursion. His idea, presumably, was to field their most explosive personnel but continue the ability to execute the two-back run concepts usually carried out by Damien Harris and the bruising, but less threatening, Jakob Johnson.
- Oddly enough, despite the ridge’s success on their initial drives, the Patriots ditched that plan for more traditional two-back personnel down the stretch — and it worked. The Pats’ 7.2 yards per play with Johnson on the field finished as their highest single-game average of the season.
- That average is mostly a credit to long play-action completions of 24 and 20 yards, plus a 15-yard run by Harris on the Patriots’ second-half touchdown excursion.
- The Pats feasted on play-action all day, punishing the Texans linebackers for crashing the line of scrimmage in favor of their zone responsibilities. Jones went 9-of-11 for 127 yards and the pick off play-action.
- Otherwise, the Pats continue to play more effectively from 11 personnel than with their two tight ends on the field simultaneously. Jonnu Smith finally broke his first tackle of the season, but struggled run-blocking — against.
- Out wide, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor both ripped off their longest gains working a vacated middle of the field off play-action. Bourne’s longest catch, a 15-yarder, was on a slant route versus man coverage.
- Up front, the patchwork offensive line far surpassed expectations.
- Ted Karras was the only O-lineman to post a clean sheet, though he was in the vicinity on one stuff. It’s arguable he’s been among the Pats’ best five O-linemen this year.
- There’s a case for Ferentz’s sack to be divided with Brandon Bolden, who was in the area when Jones went down. But don’t expect that play to keep the coaching staff from fielding him on third downs.
- Bolden again led the Pats’ running backs in snaps on passing downs. Stevenson didn’t pass-block once, though Harris was given a greater opportunity and played well.
- Personnel breakdown: 48% three-safety nickel package, 23% three-cornerback nickel, 15% dime, 8% base, 3% prevent, 2% quarter.**
- Pressure rate: 22%
- Blitz rate: 22% of dropbacks
- Blitz efficacy: 4.8 yards allowed per play
- Yards per carry allowed: 2.8
- Third downs: 6-14
- Red-zone efficiency: 1-2
- Sacks: Matt Judon 2, Jamie Collins
- QB hits: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Lawrence Guy, Judon
- Hurries: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Judon
- Run stuffs: Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips
- Interceptions: None
- Pass deflections: J.C. Jackson
- Missed tackles: Devin McCourty 2, Bentley, Dugger
- It can’t be said enough that Davis Mills, perhaps the NFL’s worst starting quarterback, looked like an All-Pro against the Patriots. Their outside cornerback thoroughness is hugely problematic.
- The Pats had to sit one of their starters, Joejuan Williams, starting late in the second quarter.
- Though when the Texans needed a first down early, they went after the Pats’ safeties in man coverage: Dugger and Devin McCourty, who allowed the first fourth-down conversion on a quick slant.
- The Pats fielded three safeties on 68% of their snaps, so that position is and will continue to be a bellwether for this defense. It was bad Sunday, and so were they.
- In past years, the Patriots’ linebackers were that bellwether, but they continue to rotate with the group’s long-term health in mind. Judon saw 53 of 59 snaps, most among the linebackers, followed by Kyle Van Noy (43) and Dont’a Hightower (38).
- Hightower enjoyed his best game of the season, finding the ball at a pre-2020 level. He recorded five tackles and a hurry.
- Jamie Collins’ role remains unknown, though it reasons he could play more on passing downs, as the most athletic of the Pats’ inside linebackers. He earned a sack in just three defensive snaps.
- On the edge, Josh Uche has been kept quiet for two straight weeks. Chase Winovich took some early-down reps toward the end of the opening excursion, but sat most of the game.
- Rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore drew two holding penalties, the second straight week he’s recorded two disruptions.
- Another backup D-tackle, Carl Davis, pushed the pocket well.
- Schematically, the Patriots played far more coverage against Mills than expected. He was blitzed just seven times, approximately the same number of snaps he faced eight in coverage.
- What finally starting killing Texans drives in the second half was a missed third-down flag on Jackson for defensive pass interference, an offensive holding call, substantial third-down defense against Brandin Cooks and Collins’ sack. It should take a lot more to beat Dallas this weekend.
Statistics for passing thoroughness, broken tackles and missed tackles courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
*11 personnel = one running back, two tight ends; 12 personnel = one running back, one tight end; 10 personnel = one running back, no tight ends; 21F personnel = one running back, one fullback, one tight end; 21H personnel = two halfbacks, one tight end.
**Nickel defense = five defensive backs; dime defense = six defensive backs; quarter defense = seven defensive backs; prevent defense = eight defensive backs.
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