Felger & Mazz

Felger & Mazz

Credit: USA Today.

As we all saw, Bill O’Brien tore into Mac Jones on Sunday in Germany. A closer inspection of the preceding play helps explain why.

As Greg Bedard – aka The Big Boy – noted during his weekly visit on Felger & Mazz, O’Brien’s harangue at Jones took place after the Patriots failed to convert a third-and-3 from the Indianapolis 17-yard line just before the midpoint of the third quarter in Sunday’s loss against the Colts. Patriots kicker Chad Ryland missed a 35-yard field goal on the ensuing snap that left the Patriots with a 10-6 deficit, hardly a small detail given New England ultimately lost the game, 10-6. (The score was 10-6 when Ryland lined up for the kick.) Had Ryland made the kick, the Pats obviously would have needed only a field goal later in the quarter, when both Jones and his replacement, Bailey Zappe, threw interceptions that sent the Pats plummeting to a 2-8 record.

Nonetheless, O’Brien was caught berating Jones after the sequence – even though the missed field goal was potentially a far more costly play. The reason? After reviewing the game on film, Bedard reported that Jones had multiple options on the play, but held onto the ball too long. Instead of a first down – or more – Jones awkwardly under-handed a pass in the direction of Rhamondre Stevenson that nearly went for a drive-killing interception.

As such, when both got to the sideline, O’Brien tore into Mac Jones in a manner that evoked memories of a similar O’Brien outburst against Tom Brady years ago during a game in Philadelphia. In that instance, Brady had chastised young, undrafted receiver Tiquan Underwood, behavior at which O’Brien took great offense.

Using Bedard’s assessment as a springboard, we went back and looked at Jones’ decision-making on that third-down play. Here’s what we found:

  • Pre-snap

    As the Patriots lineup for the snap, Jones calls for wide receiver Demario Douglas to go into motion from the offensive right to the left. As we know, this is a mechanism for the quarterback to determine what kind of pass coverage the defense is in man-to-man or zone – depending on whether a specific defender follows Douglas across the formation. In this video, the Colts defenders do not change positions, telling Jones that the Colts will be in zone coverage when the Patriots snap the football.

  • The pass patterns

    In the video above, we’ve spotlighted and identified the receivers as follows: (1) Kayshon Boutte; (2) Douglas; (3) tight end Hunter Henry; (4) wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster; and (5) running back Rhamondre Stevenson. The video also defines the patterns for each receiver, beginning with Boutte, who flares toward to front left pylon of the end zone primarily to clear space underneath for Douglas, who runs a crossing route just beyond the line to gain. Henry runs into the opening behind the linebacker and between the safeties, where he could conceivably be open for a touchdown. Schuster essentially runs the opposite pattern that Boutte does, flaring toward the pylon on the opposite side of the field. Meanwhile, Stevenson is a fifth receiver on the play, flaring to Jones’ left as a safety valve. Jones obviously has a lot ot process here, but he has FIVE OPTIONS on the play.

  • The execution – or lack thereof

    In the video above, you’ll note that we have frozen the screen shortly after Jones receives the snap and completes his dropback, all of which allows us to survey the quarterback’s options. (We should also note that the numbers do not necessarily illustrate Jones’ proper reads and/or progressions. They are just a way to identify the receivers.) While Boutte is covered, most everyone is available for one type of pass or another. At a minimum, if he had been prepared to deliver the ball quickly, Jones can go to Douglas for what feels like an easy first down. A throw to Henry over the head of the linebacker is also there for a potential touchdown. Even Smith-Schuster might be open over his right shoulder, toward the sideline, because the safety between him and Henry is in conflict. Worst case, if Jones decides to bail and go to Stevenson, there seems a good chance that Stevenson could at least power first for a first down.

    Obviously, we all know what happens: the pressure intensifies and Jones turtles, hunch over before awkward underhanded flip to Stevenson that was nearly intercepted. Was the rush a factor? Sure. But then, this is life as an NFL quarterback who must make quick, decisive decisions at critical times. Independent of what we think, O’Brien clearly believed Jones had multiple options here – as Bedard suggested, it was a good play – and that the quarterback’s inability to process and pull the trigger was among the biggest breakdowns.

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