The Patriots are in an unfortunate reality where starting quarterback Mac Jones will likely miss Sunday's game against the Packers due to injury.
According to reports, Jones suffered a "severe" high-ankle sprain that could cause him to miss multiple games. Jones told reporters he's taking things "day-by-day" and receiving treatment, but many players who receive his diagnosis have surgery to repair the damage.
Although we'll avoid laying out a timetable for Jones's return, the feeling during Tuesday's availability with the offensive coaching staff is that the team is preparing for backup Brian Hoyer to start on Sunday.
The 14-year veteran last started a game for the Patriots in an emergency start during the height of COVID-19 in 2020. Starting quarterback Cam Newton was diagnosed with the coronavirus a day before New England's contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Hoyer got the nod two days later in a difficult situation.
Without a week to prepare, Hoyer and the Patriots offense struggled in a 24-10 loss to the Chiefs. An injury to your starting quarterback is never a good thing, but at least Hoyer will go through a normal game week as projected QB1 from a preparation standpoint this time.
On Tuesday, Senior Football Advisor Matt Patricia and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge spoke about Hoyer's skill set and how they'll build a game plan around their backup quarterback.
"Hoyer is great to be around. His experience, his knowledge, the way he sees the game, and the mental preparation that he does as he's trying to get ready to be in his role through the course of the first three weeks of the season is really impressive. I love when you can get around a great veteran player like Hoyer and pick his brain," Patricia said. "If you love football, those are great guys to talk to, whether it's coverage, how they see the front, their thoughts and ideas on routes, and even leadership."
The Patriots offensive coaches acknowledged that catering to Hoyer's strengths will be critical this week but also emphasized that they won't completely change their offensive identity.
"We always look to play to our players' strengths. Every player has a unique skill set. Every player does certain things better than other things. We'll have a plan based on who is going to be the quarterback, and we'll see how that develops throughout the week. We don't want to completely turn the offense on its head because we feel like we are making some progress," Judge told reporters on Tuesday.
Patricia then added, "we keep that core foundation in place. We try to set everything up during the course of the week so that we have whatever the situation might be on game day, we can move in a direction if we need to."
With the team making a trip to Lambeau Field to face the Packers this weekend, they'll meet a defense that just held a short-handed Bucs offense led by Tom Brady to 12 points and 285 total yards. Green Bay's defensive front shut down Tampa Bay's running game and pressured Brady into three sacks and a 2-for-11 showing on third down.
New England will likely tweak multiple elements of their offense with Jones sidelined. But a major component as they turn to their 36-year-old backup is fewer downfield throws.
In the first three games of the season, Jones is tied for third in the NFL in average air yards per pass attempt (10.4) and has attempted a league-high 20 passes of 20-plus air yards. Patricia told Patriots.com that the Patriots began shifting to more vertical throws in the spring to highlight a strength of Jones's game during his time at Alabama.
But with the Packers defensive front dominating the line of scrimmage last week and Hoyer's skill set, one would expect the Patriots to incorporate more quick-game concepts where the ball comes out of Hoyer's hands fast and travels a shorter distance in the air.
Besides leaning more on the short and intermediate passing game, New England also can become a run-first unit thanks to having two productive running backs in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. In the first three weeks of the season, the Pats are eighth in the league in expected points added per rushing attempt (+0.02) and tenth in success rate (44.9%).
Although facing reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers on his home turf without your starting quarterback is a tall task, the hope is Hoyer can manage the game to keep the Patriots competitive.
New England will begin on-field preparations for Sunday's clash with the Packers on Wednesday, where we'll find out Jones's level of participation in practice for the first time since the injury.