The New England Patriots did enough against a tough New York Jets defense to earn their first win of the season, but their offense still lacks a key element.
Mac Jones and Co. again struggled to push the ball downfield after not having a pass play of more than 14 yards in their Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins. It's a troubling trend that, as our Patriots insider Phil Perry explains, makes the absence of an explosive weapon in New England's offense glaring.
"If you don't have the dependable third-down option, what you need to do is stay out of third down. Try to pick up a first down on, say, I don't know, first or second down," Perry quipped on Monday's Arbella Early Edition. "That is allowed. It is legal in today's NFL to play essentially what is CFL-style football.
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"There are teams all over the league that are doing it. There's a team that just scored 70 down in South Florida (Dolphins) that is doing it consistently. And to do that, you need to be explosive and push the ball down the field. They just don't have that guy."
So, what's the key to fixing the downfield passing woes going forward?
"I think they have a speed option in (Demario) Pop Douglas that they should be using more frequently. And I think as this offensive line continues to jell and comes together, that they'll be able to protect Mac Jones well enough and he's accurate enough to make the most of the small windows that guys like Pop Douglas, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker can provide for him," Perry said.
"They just haven't been able to do it consistently. They are one of the least productive down-the-field passing teams in the NFL. You can't sustain it if you want to be a good offense."
The offensive line was plagued by injuries all summer and through the first two weeks of the season. It was finally healthy for Week 3, and it made all the difference against a Jets defense that ranks among the league's best. Left tackle Trent Brown, who missed last week's loss to Miami with a concussion, was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded tackle across the NFL for Week 3.
Our Tom E. Curran agrees that getting the o-line to jell should unlock the Patriots' downfield passing game.
"That is the equalizer, is protection," Curran said. "Look, if you don't have guys who are extremely fast and elusive, the best way to get them open is to have a lot of time. Ben Roethlisberger profited from that even though he had a very good Steelers offensive line because he was built like a sequoia and he could stand in there and have people bounce off him. Mac isn't that, so he'll need that protection.
"But I could see if the development of the offensive line continues and they get more time for him where he can survey and make some throws. Because one thing about him is he is so freaking accurate. His anticipation is so absurd that you do have something there."
Another tough test awaits Jones and the Patriots in Dallas, though they'll catch a break with Cowboys star cornerback Trevon Diggs out for the season due to a torn ACL.
Pats-Cowboys kicks off at 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday at AT&T Stadium.