Cassel: Why Zappe should start Sunday, Mac Jones' motivation and more


For players dealing with injuries in the NFL, sometimes the biggest challenge is being real with yourself.

We obviously want to be out there on the field. That's what we do as a profession and we take pride in trying to rise to that challenge, even if we're banged up.

But there are certain injuries you just can't rush back from, particularly something like Mac Jones' high ankle sprain.

Latest injury update on Patriots QB Mac Jones' ankle entering Week 6

If you're only at, say, 60 percent, it impacts how you play the quarterback position. The loss of mobility impacts your ability to get outside the pocket when you need to and step up to avoid pressure. All of those subtle movements are affected. Your follow through is affected as well, especially if it's your lead foot, as is the case with Jones.

Patriots Talk: How much staying power will the Patriots' improvements have? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

You can be mentally tough and know the offense like the back of your hand, but if you're limited physically, at some point it's going to catch up to you when the other team rushes the quarterback. As good as the Patriots' offensive line has been, it's still a major risk to put him out there if he's not physically capable.

Is Zappe giving Jones extra motivation?

I'm sure there's frustration on Jones' part of wanting to be out there, wanting to play and feeling like he can make it work.

As a competitor, you don't want to see somebody else doing your job. You want to be out there. You want to show the team you're the starting quarterback, and you want to continue to prove that week in and week out.

When I was in Kansas City as the starter, I missed a game due to a concussion, and Brady Quinn came in and played pretty well against Tampa Bay. I couldn't wait to get back on the field the following week. So, Jones' competitiveness is probably playing a factor in him wanting to return maybe before he's 100 percent healthy.

A lot of times that's what the training staff and the coaches are there for: to protect the player from himself and his own desire to play when he might not be ready to yet. The last thing you want is to bring a player back too early before he's 100 percent, and then he hurts himself again and you're back to square one.

So it's really important that the training staff and coaching staff make the right decision for the player, even if he tells you he's ready to go.

The sooner a decision is made, the better

You have to be really precise with the timing here. Obviously the team wants Mac Jones to play, but if he goes the whole week without practicing but then on Friday says he's ready to play, he missed out on the Wednesday and Thursday practices, which are pivotal for game-planning.

On the other side of the coin, it's really hard for a young quarterback like Bailey Zappe to split reps with somebody. If he's playing, he needs practice reps with the guys he hasn't gotten a lot of work with on the field.

So, the coaching staff and training staff are probably in constant communication to see where Jones' injury stands, which will determine how much volume they give him in practice.

Win-win situation

In my view, this situation is actually a positive for everyone involved.

It's positive for Bailey Zappe to go out and prove himself in a game situation and show that he deserves to be the backup. But at the end of the day, Mac Jones is the Patriots' starting quarterback, and I don't think anyone there is second-guessing that. And when you're injured and have to step back and watch, you see things a little bit differently from an operational standpoint.

So, maybe he was able to reevaluate some of the plays or calls that were made. Maybe he was able to observe the communication, so when he does return to the field, he's more effective and more efficient operating the offense.

So, who should start Sunday in Cleveland?

A lot depends on how Mac Jones progresses over the next few days. But we saw Bailey Zappe give a really good performance last week. He played effectively, played efficiently and was composed.

I would give Zappe another week as the starter and give Jones another week to heal.

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.

Contact Us