The Patriots pulled out their second win of the season in Houston, a come-from-behind win that saw them erase a 22-9 deficit in the second half. With a rookie quarterback under center and a host of free-agent additions, the growth of New England's offense has been incremental but as they've accumulated five games of experience together, an offensive identity is starting to emerge.
Jones and his development are the biggest pieces of the puzzle, as the 15th-overall pick was thrust into Week 1 against the Dolphins and has gotten a crash course in NFL quarterbacking on the fly. As Jones has continued to strengthen his grasp on the Patriots playbook and just being an NFL quarterback in general, the results are starting to translate for the improved weaponry around him.
Let's take a look at the key elements of the Patriots' new-look offense that are starting to make some noise, as well as the areas where they'll most need to improve to get to the next level.
In Mac We Trust
All things considered, it would be hard to ask for more than Mac Jones has given the Patriots in the first five starts of his career. The highlight? He's completing over 70 percent of his passes, putting him in rare company as far as rookie quarterbacks go. That kind of completion rate shows Jones is grasping the Patriots offense and where to go with the ball, no easy task considering this is a system that spent 20 years in development and is as complex as any around the league.
Not surprisingly, defenses have blitzed Jones at an excessive rate, but over the last two weeks, he's improved against pressure. Jones has been blitzed at the third-highest rate in the NFL and through three games he compiled a 76.8 passer rating, but against Tampa Bay and Houston, Jones saw his rating against the blitz improve to 99.5 according to Pro Football Focus. Mac's quick release and processor should help him continue to make teams pay for sending extra rushers at him.
But Jones' most impressive work might not necessarily show up in the stat book, as his toughness and ability to deliver with the game on the line is already showing up. Both against the Dolphins and Buccaneers, Jones led late-game drives that unfortunately fell just short of delivering the winning points. But the rookie already has a steely-eyed resolve when it's late and close, no matter how beaten up he's gotten over the course of the contest.
The end of game work against the Texans was some of his best yet, delivering a third-down touchdown to Hunter Henry early in the fourth quarter that tied the game. After a defensive stop, Jones would lead the Patriots on a 15-play game-winning drive, with a third-down conversion to Henry being another pressure-packed moment where the rookie delivered a strike. It's remarkable for this offense to already be ninth in the league on third down.
There's no question that Jones is just scratching the surface of his potential and his smart decision-making, accuracy and quick delivery are tailor-made to the Patriots offensive approach. The final frontier in his development is producing the kind of explosive downfield plays that will truly open things up for the offense underneath and simply putting more points on the board. Jones is consistently moving the offense and once they improve on a league-worst red zone touchdown rate, the attack should really start to hum.
After emerging as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2019 and getting his shot as a full-time player when Julian Edelman went down in 2020, Jakobi Meyers has developed into the Patriots' most consistent offensive threat. This year, Meyers already has 31 catches for 302 yards and is on pace to easily set career highs in all marks. Against Houston, Meyers had a couple noticeable mistakes... dropping a wide-open pass along the sideline and being part of an illegal motion penalty that took a touchdown off the scoreboard, but those inconsistencies have been rare for Meyers and he still delivered a 24-yard catch-and-run that got the final game-winning drive started.
The only thing that's really left for Meyers to do is get into the end zone, as he missed a couple of golden opportunities against the Texans, including a wide receiver screen that looked like it was specifically called to get him his first touchdown. The scores will come, but for an offense that needs smart and reliable receivers who know where to be, Meyers has given them just that. He's shown an immediate chemistry with Mac Jones, something that should only continue to grow in the coming weeks.
While Meyers has been the consistent threat this season, it's been Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne who have emerged in recent weeks as it looks like Josh McDaniels' offense is starting to click for them. Henry has two touchdowns in the last two games. After starting with five catches in his first two games, he now has 15 in his last three and has become the second-most targeted player on third down.
Bourne's progress isn't far behind. He had just three catches in the first two games but 14 catches and a touchdown in his last three games. He also has caught every target in the last two weeks, while also picking up a 12-yard rush against the Texans. It's looking more and more like Henry and Bourne are understand where to be and it's paying off.
The progress of the two new players is a reminder that it takes time to build an offense and both Henry and Bourne are under contract for another two seasons after this one. That kind of continuity should continue to pay increasing dividends as Mac's knowledge and experience grow. The emergence of the receiver and tight end should also provide favorable conditions for the other new pieces to start making some noise.
Five to Fix
Obviously, at 2-3, there is plenty to fix, though the Patriots have been competitive in all the games they played and have been only a play or two away in their losses. Here's the quick rundown.
- Ball Security: The Patriots have nine giveaways through five games, tied for third-worst in the league. After a fumble cost them the lead against the Dolphins in Week 1, few would've predicted the ball security issues would continue. Simply put, the offense will never know their ceiling until they stop giving the ball away and hurting themselves. Nothing is more important going forward than putting an end to the fumbles and interceptions.
- Red Zone: As mentioned above, the Patriots are the worst red zone offense in the NFL, converting touchdowns inside of the 20-yard-line just 38.7 percent of the time. By comparison, Jameis Winston and the Saints are converting nearly 93 percent of theirs. It's not all that shocking that this areas has lagged in the offensive development and they've shown solid progress over the last two games. But finishing drives with touchdowns is a huge priority.
- Protection: The game against Houston was a bit of an outlier because of the health issues along the offensive line, but the makeshift crew did a really solid job albeit against an uninspiring defensive Texan front. Perhaps the team found some new options to move forward with, whether it's Justin Herron at left tackle, Ted Karras getting a more extensive role at guard or Yodny Cajuste entering the right tackle rotation fray until Trent Brown gets back. When he has time, Mac is finding the open receivers, but if the Patriots are to start pushing the ball down the field, they'll need their offensive line to shore up the protection, no matter who is blocking.
- Running Support: Even with the negative rushing yard performance against the Bucs aside, the Patriots rushing offense has been lackluster this season, partly due to how battered they are through five games. Is there enough left in the tank with just Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor? Nothing would help spark the offense to level-up quite like an effective ground game.
- Smith and Agholor: While Henry and Bourne have made strides in recent weeks, Jonnu Smith (15 catches, one touchdown) and Nelson Agholor (16 catches, 197 yards) aren't too far behind but could stand to be more involved in the attack. Employing Smith's run-after-catch ability and Agholor's deep threat ability are exactly the elements that need to be expanded within the offense. Rounding the offense out with a few more contributions from the duo could be just what the Hoodie ordered.