Cassel: The next stage in Mac Jones' development might come Sunday


It was a Sunday night game in Week 6 of the 2008 season. 

We were coming off a loss and hosting the Denver Broncos, who were a decent team at that point. But we kicked Denver’s butt, 45-7, and I threw for three touchdowns.

That game was the turning point for me from a confidence standpoint. I felt very comfortable about our offensive approach, my role as a starter and what was expected of me, and we really grew the offense from that point on.

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Even though I had been in the New England Patriots' system for a few years, I still had to earn the trust of the coaching staff as the starter. You never want to overwhelm a player with too much volume, so in my first five weeks, I had to prove I could handle a bigger playbook and gameday call sheet.

Mac Jones is already very far along in that progression. He can recognize defensive structures at the line of scrimmage. His fundamentals are sound and he's a great decision-maker. He can process information quickly and at the same time not force balls, like a lot of rookies do.

But as he continues to grow in this offense, the next step is the Patriots giving him more of a voice in what's going on. They'll give him more ability to get out of certain plays when he sees something at the line of scrimmage. When he recognizes a potential blitz, for example, he can check to a seven-man protection and protect himself by signaling something to the wide receiver group.

The Patriots have already put a lot on Jones' plate. There have been times when he hasn’t gotten much help from the offensive line or the run game was completely stagnant. That puts pressure on a young quarterback. 

He’s responded to that pressure every time. The team has needed him to perform well in order to keep them in ballgames and even win a couple games, and for the most part, he's delivered. No situation has been too big for him.

Sunday will be his toughest test yet, though. The Cowboys are averaging the second-most points per game in the league, so the Patriots will have to put up points.

Dallas also has a ball-hawking defense that’s second in the league in turnovers, so there’s going to be a point in this game where Mac Jones has to make plays without making mistakes. In order to keep up with the Cowboys’ offense, the Patriots are going to have to win the possession battle, sustain drives and convert those drives into points.

There's no doubt in my mind that Mac has earned the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates. He already has that trust factor. The next step will be having more of a voice in the offensive room.

So if it's a big third down, he can say, "I'm not comfortable with this play. I prefer this play on third down." Or if they're in the red zone, he can ask Josh McDaniels to explain the play more to see if it's the best call.

At that point, McDaniels doesn't always have to be right with the initial play call. Jones can see something on the field, communicate that and get into the right call.

That could go a long way toward an offense's success, so if Jones can continue that part of his development Sunday, the Patriots will have better odds of keeping up with the high-scoring Cowboys.

Editor's Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.

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