Phil Perry

The Mac Report: Quick-game passing not going anywhere for Patriots

During Monday's practice, Mac Jones and the Patriots worked on what they majored in a season ago: quick game. 

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FOXBORO -- The introduction of pads at training camp is, generally speaking, not about the quarterbacks. Sure, because padded football is real football, that means quarterbacks get a better sense of how much time they have against a real pass rush. They can see which receivers are able to get off a jam at the line of scrimmage and which ones can't.

But there wasn't much in the way of straight drop-back passing on Monday, which was the first day of padded practice on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. Instead, they worked on a lot of that which they majored in a season ago: quick game. 

In 13 games last year, Mac Jones ranked fourth in the NFL in quick-game screens and swing passes (61). And had he played a full season, he might've had a chance to catch Tom Brady at No. 2 on that list (77).

The Patriots repped perimeter screens a great deal on Day 5 of practice. Bill Belichick dedicated whole periods of Monday's practice to receivers blocking and reading blocks on bubble screens. It was the second consecutive day that the Patriots repped these types of passes consistently. Perhaps that's setting them up to feature more run-pass option looks in their offense in 2023. Or perhaps Bill O'Brien likes the idea of using his big-bodied receivers and tight ends in catch-and-run situations on the outside.

Either way, on Monday it was hard to get a great sense of how the down-the-field aspect of the Patriots passing game is progressing. But here's what we saw from Mac Jones...

Number crunching

Jones ended up going 8-for-10 in the most competitive periods of practice. True to their focus in practice periods leading up to 11-on-11 work, DeVante Parker and Hunter Henry were not targeted in the team's middle-of-the-field work. Neither is much in the way of a bubble-screen threat.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, though? He was busy, catching all four targets sent his way. Kevin Harris was targeted three times, catching two. One glanced off his hands -- a slightly off-target throw from Jones, who had to throw around edge-rusher Josh Uche tearing into the backfield unblocked -- but otherwise Harris seemed relatively sure-handed.

Henry was targeted once on the goal line, but for the second time in the last few days, he and Jones appeared to be on different pages on fades to the back corner of the end zone. Jones' pass nearly drilled the pylon, but Henry cut his route a bit shorter to the sideline. 

Hard counting

One little nugget that became apparent on Monday? Bill O'Brien has his quarterbacks thinking about using their voices to pick up some free yardage. Jones got things started by using a hard count to get defensive lineman Deatrich Wise to jump offsides. Bailey Zappe did the same thing to Sam Roberts later. Laps were ordered up for both pass-rushers.

For the most part, the offense has been very clean at the line of scrimmage through five days of camp. They had two penalties on Sunday -- both Bill Murray and Kody Russey took laps for false-start infractions -- but otherwise have been on their Ps and Qs in that regard.

Take a knee

There were points in the competitive 11-on-11 periods of Monday's practice that half the defensive line... never got out of their stances. It happened on multiple occasions. The ball was snapped, and instead of the defensive line engaging the offensive line in unison, half of the rushers on the line of scrimmage took a knee. The protectors on that side stood up tall and essentially had a play off. I can't remember seeing that before in competitive, fully-padded training camp practices.

The offensive line was missing six players at times: Trent Brown got what appeared to be a day off, Mike Onwenu remains on the physically unable to perform list, Calvin Anderson remains on the non-football illness list, Cole Strange was injured early in the session, Chasen Hines was injured mid-practice, and Jake Andrews missed his second-straight workout Monday.

Perhaps Belichick wanted to give some of his linemen an occasional breather. Or perhaps he didn't love the in-the-trenches matchups that resulted from the o-line injury situation and wanted to give the rest of the offense a better chance to run plays as they were intended.

Regardless, between the injuries and the types of throws in focus, it was a less-than-ideal day to judge quarterbacks. Tuesday's workout may provide a bit more in terms of down-the-field looks.

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