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Jun 10, 2021; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (50) talks to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during OTAs at the New England Patriots practice complex. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

A curious question has risen out of the Patriots’ first two games: why aren’t they throwing into the end zone or pushing the ball downfield more with Mac Jones, despite opportunities to do so?

Simplest answer? The Patriots are cautiously managing their first-round rookie quarterback and the way they run the offense as he learns on the job. They certainly didn’t need to cut Jones loose against the Jets, who appear to be taking the opposite approach with Zach Wilson. Check mark goes to the Patriots on that one.

But could the Patriots have called more aggressive plays in the passing game over the first two weeks? Has Jones passed up opportunities to push it? Particularly in the red zone, where they are 2-for-7 so far, and where Jones has yet to attempt a pass across the goal line?

Surprisingly enough, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels says the Patriots aren’t shackling Jones like it appears. In a video conference on Tuesday, he expanded upon the numerous challenges that face quarterbacks and passing offenses on every play and every decision. Pass protection and the coverage shown by the defense are chief among those. Jones has a responsibility to calculate many things together and distill it into a single decision, and make the right one, while the rest of the team has to execute properly as well.

In other words, it’s not as simple as letting the kid sling it and hoping for the best (hopefully the Jets were listening). But McDaniels told reporters that the Patriots do want Jones to push the ball downfield – but only when the time is right.

“Believe me, there’s not a whole lot that we’re holding back for him,” McDaniels said. “Certainly, like I said, you want to be able to test those [deep] areas of the field as you move forward. But I also want him to make smart decisions, I want him to protect the football, and I want him to be aggressive when it’s time to be aggressive.

“It’s not like he’s not doing that. It’s just there’s certain times when it’s the right time to do it, and certain times when it is not, and I’ve got to continue to work hard myself to provide our offense with opportunities to do that if it presents itself.”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots directs the offense on the move against the New York Jets in the first half of the game at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots directs the offense on the move against the New York Jets in the first half of the game at MetLife Stadium on September 19, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Jones probably didn’t need to shoulder responsibility for a lack of downfield throws, especially considering the Patriots beat the Jets by 19 points and came within one fumble of possibly being 2-0. The kid has played precisely 120 minutes of football. Contrast that with Tom Brady, who has played about 20,000.

But, despite the small sample size – and despite facing two aggressive defenses that presented protection problems up front and gave Jones little time to throw – the rookie has now said twice that he wishes he pushed the ball downfield more in his first two starts. But he agrees with McDaniels, as he should, that it comes down to making good decisions and having everyone on the same page.

“I think it’s just trial and error,” Jones said Wednesday. “Just trying to – first of all – run the play correctly. Get it to the first read if he’s open or whatever and just stick to my reads. Plays will come. You can’t chase plays that aren’t there or you think might be there.

“There’s definitely times when I watch the film and I wish I threw the ball down the field more, but at the same time I’m just going to continue to do what I do and take what they give me [on defense].”

Clearly, the Patriots haven’t had to open up the whole playbook or take unnecessary risks in the first two weeks. But they’ll face those situations eventually. Maybe the New Orleans Saints, who boast a high-ranking run defense, present Jones’ first opportunity to target the deeper areas more often.

But Patriots fans certainly don’t want to have a Zach Wilson situation. Neither do McDaniels or Bill Belichick. So while McDaniels may not be holding Jones back, he’s not running a schoolyard offense, either. It’s all about decision-making and team execution. So it’s important for literally everyone to exercise patience for those bigger plays to come.

  • Stopping The Rock

    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball during the second half in the game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)

    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball during the second half in the game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)

    Through two weeks, the Saints’ run defense ranks second in the NFL with only 2.8 yards allowed per carry. In 2020, they allowed the fifth-fewest yards per carry (3.9) and the third-fewest rushing touchdowns (11). Patriots center David Andrews is wary of the way they limit teams on the ground.

    “They’ve got an experienced front, they’ve got a really good run defense, one of the best run defenses the last couple years,” Andrews told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand on Wednesday. “Gonna be a big challenge for us.”

    This unit is no fluke. And, if they limit Damien Harris on early downs, it could present the Patriots with their first opportunities to be more aggressive throwing the ball downfield.

  • The good and bad on the injury report

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 19: Matt Judon #9 of the New England Patriots reacts after the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 35-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 19: Matt Judon #9 of the New England Patriots reacts after the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on August 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 35-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    Right tackle Trent Brown (calf) and linebacker Kyle Van Noy (throat) both returned to practice for the Patriots on Wednesday. Brown was limited and Van Noy was listed as a full participant.

    But there’s a key new name on the Wednesday injury report: linebacker Matt Judon did not participate with a knee injury. Judon led the Patriots with seven total pressures against the Jets, doing most of his damage in the fourth quarter.

    Pressuring quarterback Jameis Winston should be key to slowing down the Saints offense and forcing turnovers, so Judon would be a huge loss if he’s unable to play.

  • Center/Guard added to practice squad

    CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 29: Jake Eldrenkamp #60 of the Indianapolis Colts runs drills on the field before facing the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 29, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images) (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    CINCINNATI, OHIO – AUGUST 29: Jake Eldrenkamp #60 of the Indianapolis Colts runs drills on the field before facing the Cincinnati Bengals in a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 29, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images) (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    The Patriots brought seven free agents in for visits on Tuesday. They ended up signing the one player who didn’t need to work out for them, officially adding center/guard Jake Eldrenkamp to their practice squad.

    Eldrenkamp, 27, was active for two games with the Colts in 2020, playing 10 special teams snaps. He signed a futures contract with Indianapolis in January before being waived in August. Eldrenkamp has also spent time with the Browns and Rams since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

    A spot on the practice squad opened up after the Patriots signed kicker Nick Folk to the main roster. Click here for a full list of the Patriots’ most recent free agent visits.

  • Did You Know?

    The Patriots and Saints are the two-highest scoring teams in the NFL since 2010, and the only two teams to total more than 5,000 points scored in that span. Both now entering new eras.