Mazz: The gap between Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa is still growing
On this Monday, the gap between Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa has never been greater, though obviously not in that order. Tua comes first. Mac comes second. And as the song goes, there is fiction in the space between.
Removed from their days together at Alabama, Jones and Tagovailoa were both victorious yesterday, the former in the Patriots’ 15-10 victory over the mudroom New York Jets, the latter in Miami’s historic 70-20 rout of the laundry-bin Denver Broncos (and the embarrassed Sean Payton). For the most part, the comparison pretty much ends there.
Or does it?
For three years now, we here in New England have been comparing Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa, who are alike as much as they are different. Jones is bigger, Tagovailoa more athletic. Neither possesses an especially strong arm. Tua throws a better ball. Jones is just as smart. And yet, Tua is a leading Most Valuable Player Award candidate while Jones looks like the result of an experiment gone bad, the football equivalent of Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in “Trading Places.”
“This doesn’t compare to anything that I’ve seen or been a part of,” Tagovailoa told reporters yesterday in the aftermath of Miami’s 70-point explosion.
Jones might have said the same thing, albeit for entirely different reasons.
The Patriots, after all, have scored 52 points all year, a total that ranks 25th in the NFL – and two of the teams behind the Patriots have yet to play this week.
As such, the question today is not whether Tagovailoa is better than Jones – he probably is. The question concerns the gap between the two former Alabama quarterbacks, who are a most striking test case on the difference between nature and nurture. At their essence, Jones and Tagovailoa seem like reasonably comparable quarterbacks. But at the moment, they represent a startling contrast on what to do – and what not to do – when developing a quarterback selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
OK, this is an easy, obvious pressure point. At the end of Tagovailoa’s second season, the Dolphins reached a crossroads. So what did Miami do? The team hired an innovative, offensive head coach (Mike McDaniel) who has implemented a creative, quarterback-friendly system. And while the 2022 Dolphins had trouble protecting their young, franchise quarterback, the results have been nothing short of eye-popping. In 16 games since the start of last season, Tua ranks first in the NFL with a 108.8 passer rating. He has thrown 33 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions while completing 66.1 percent of his passes.
During the same period, in 17 starts, Jones has ranked 20th among the 21 quarterbacks to have made at least 15 starts with just 19 touchdowns and 13 picks. He has been sacked nearly twice as many times (40 to 22 for Tagovailoa). While there are obviously lots of explanations for this, the most stunning was head coach Bill Belichick’s decision to entrust “coaches” Matt Patricia and Joe Judge with Jones’ development after the quarterback’s promising rookie season. Neither Patricia nor Judge had any experience coaching offense or quarterbacks before 2022. Jones understandably resisted from the start in what proved to be a train wreck of a season.
The result? Tagovailoa, despite suffering injuries, took a step forward in 2022. Jones took a huge step back. The gap widened.
Just the same, let’s not ne naïve. If we were to compare the surrounding casts of Tagovailoa and Jones, the contrast would be just as stark. Before McDaniel arrived in Miami, the Dolphins drafted Jaylen Waddle. At the same time McDaniel showed up, they brought in Tyreek Hill. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that Miami rejects DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki have been among the Patriots’ bigger acquisitions, an amusing reality for obvious reasons.
Happily, it seemed, the Patriots gobbled up what wasn’t good enough for the Dolphins, bringing the term sloppy seconds to an entirely new level.
The result? Since the start of last season, Hill ranks second among all NFL wideouts in receiving yards. Waddle ranks seventh. Parker, who ranks 58th, is the only current Patriot on the list, 27 places behind Jakobi Meyers (31st), whom the club allowed to depart via free agency at the end of last season. In Meyers’ place, the Patriots signed Juju Smith-Schuster, whom Jones targeted three times yesterday for one completion and five yards. So far this season, Smith-Schuster had 16 targets for 10 catches, 66 yards and no touchdowns.
Yesterday alone, with Waddle inactive, Hill had nine catches for 157 yards and one touchdown, the last a 54-yard play that nearly matched Smith-Schuster’s yardage output for the season.
Again, the gap widened.