3 Things Patriots Must Do to Get Mac Jones Playoff-Ready in Final 3 Weeks

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2021

3 Things Patriots Must Do to Get Mac Jones Playoff-Ready in Final 3 Weeks

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots have the defense and coaching to be dangerous in the playoffs. After their 27-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it's fair to wonder if Mac Jones is ready for the spotlight. 

    Jones had something of a bye week in Week 13. He had just three pass attempts in the blustery Buffalo Bills game. Then he had an actual bye week in Week 14. 

    In Week 15, Jones was 26-of-45 for 299 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. It was his first time throwing multiple interceptions and lowest passer rating since Week 3. 

    To keep things in perspective. This isn't the end of the world. After all, Jones is a rookie. There's an expectation that he's going to play like one on occasion. This could just be a minor bump in the road and a wake up call to the Pats offense as a whole. 

    But they'll need to utilize these three weeks to get him and the offense back on track. Here are three things that would help. 

Get the Run Game Going Again

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Colts' game plan was pretty clear. Stack the box, shut down the run and force Jones to beat their defense with his arm. 

    They executed to near perfection. With Damien Harris out of the lineup, the Pats went to Rhamondre Stevenson as their primary running back, and he responded with just 36 yards on 10 carries. 

    Some of the lack of production can be blamed on game script. The Pats were down 14-0 by the end of the first quarter and 17-0 by the half. It's more difficult to stick with the run when it's getting stuffed and you're down early. 

    But the lack of rushing attack hurt Jones. The 45 passing attempts was the most he had thrown the ball since that Week 3 performance against the Saints. He hadn't had more than 35 since Week 7. 

    This Patriots offense is at its best when it can strike a better balance between run and pass concepts. It's hard for Bill Belichick to do that when the run game is not creating opportunities for itself, though. 

    It will help to get Harris back in the lineup. He is among the top running backs in the league in creating yards over expectation

Rely on Jakobi Meyers Less

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    Jakobi Meyers has had a good season for the Patriots. Year 3 has been his most productive yet with the team, and he's become a reliable target for Jones in his rookie campaign. 

    But the 12 targets he got against the Colts was a case of too much of a good thing becoming a bad thing. The Patriots don't have a prototypical No. 1 receiver. It's rare that they do in the Belichick era. Instead, the offense thrives when they have multiple threats who can produce. 

    Meyers had four more targets than the next highest-targeted Patriot on the night. Hunter Henry had eight. The difference is that Henry turned his eight into six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns. Meyers only brought in six of his 12 for 44 yards. 

    By contrast, Kendrick Bourne matched Meyers' yardage total but did so by catching all three of his targets. 

    Meyers is likely to lead the team in targets again. He has over 100 on the season with Nelson Agholor a distant second. However, he went nine straight games with fewer than 10 targets. He and Jones did just fine in those weeks, so there's a happy medium between Meyers being a consistent presence in the offense and being the go-to guy. 

Continue to Incorporate Hunter Henry

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    This isn't the time to panic. Jones had a disappointing game. That isn't reason to overhaul the offense. There were some good things to come out of the loss. 

    Hunter Henry's best game as a Patriot was chief among them. The 2021 free-agent acquisition was more involved in the game plan than he's been all season, and he rewarded them with his best stat line of the year. 

    Henry played 81 percent of the snaps, a number he has only seen or eclipsed three times this season. The eight targets he saw were tied for the most he has seen this season. 

    The increase in role was rewarded with six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns. 

    If the Patriots are going to maximize Jones' (and the offense's) potential in the postseason, it's going to need a dynamic receiving option other than Meyers to step up. 

    It was apparent against the Colts that other option can and should be Henry. When healthy, he's always been a matchup nightmare capable of putting up big numbers. 

    Belichick is familiar with getting the most out of his tight ends. Jones and the offense are probably ready to write off a lot that went wrong against Indy. They should also be anxious to incorporate what worked and that includes Henry.