The Patriots got their first win of the season on Sunday with plenty of positive takeaways -- a rookie quarterback making weekly strides, a ball-hawking secondary and some reliable special teams play have all been part of the early formula, but there's still a long way to go and a lot of improvement that needs to happen as the team makes their way through the early part of the season.
Of course, Mac Jones and the offense are a big part of the equation that will determine what heights this New England team reaches. Though Jones has had a strong start to his career and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has done a good job keeping things manageable for the rookie, the fans and pundits have limited patience waiting for the touchdown bombs to start raining down.
While a conservative approach with a rookie quarterback makes sense and Jones has looked good completing nearly 74 percent of his passes, when will he and the offense open things up a little bit?
"It's important to have the ability to throw the ball to all levels of the defense and make them defend everything, which certainly would open up other things for you underneath possibly," explained McDaniels on Tuesday morning. "But at the same time, I think there's an important balance between just closing your eyes and heaving it deep when it's really not there."
McDaniels has been methodical about his approach with the new quarterback but isn't teaching Mac to avoid the downfield throws, rather be smart about them.
"I think there's a lot that goes into each decision," said McDaniels, "Protection is one of the discussions that you have to be aware of. Blitz, is there a lot of pressure coming at you, can you hold the ball? Are you able to do things with certain protections to add time to your pocket? He has to deal with all of those same things, he has to weigh, what is the coverage? How am I seeing it? Does it give me a chance to do that at the same time, react to maybe something in the pass rush, or what have you that forces the ball to come out of his hand a little quicker?
"Believe me, there's not a whole lot that we're holding back for him."
As a Sunday matchup against the Saints looms, Mac will continue to follow McDaniels lead. It's already his third NFL game and as he compounds experience the results, and explosive plays, should follow. But for now, Mac should stay the course.
"I want him to make smart decisions," said McDaniels. "I want him to protect the football and I want him to be aggressive when it's time to be aggressive," said McDaniels. "It's just, there are certain times when it's the right time to do it. And certain times where there's not. I've got to continue to work hard to try to provide our offense with opportunities to do that if it presents itself.
Mayo eyes defensive improvement
The Patriots defense is tied for second in the NFL, allowing just 11.5 points. They're also tied for second with five takeaways through two games. Those are two very important defensive stats and paint a bottom-line picture of a Patriots defense that has been solid, but there are still some things to clean up and learn about this defense.
"We definitely still have a long way to go, I would say not only run fits, just as, as a defense, we're still kind of learning," said inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, "You know, building that camaraderie and getting used to the players around us. And I would also say that we have to improve in just overall fundamentals -- running, tackling, getting off of blockers, covering guys, things like that.
Having a defensive veteran like Dont'a Hightower should help bring things along as the team gets more comfortable together and finds their winning formula. Mayo was a veteran linebacker when Hightower was drafted in 2012, which formed an early bond between the player and now coach.
"I've seen High grow from a rookie until now, and just honestly, I just feel proud and good to be around a guy like that," said Mayo. "A guy who really loves the game of football and also understands the X's and O's, and also is a great leader. It's great."