There was a telling exchange by Mac Jones with reporters during his media availability on Thursday that highlighted the Patriots' offensive struggles in an exasperating way.
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After mentioning play-action in an answer about what he and the New England offense hope to have success with during the team's stretch run, Jones was informed that the Patriots use play-action at one of the lowest rates in the league.
Specifically, among quarterbacks who have played more than 200 snaps (roughly the equivalent of three starts), Jones is tied for dead last in the NFL in play-action usage with the Saints' Andy Dalton (13.2 percent).
"I didn’t know that," he said. "I think like I always talk about, it’s one of those type of plays that we can run, and I think it’s something that we’ve done really well around here, and we’ve done really well here this season when we’ve done it. It can help us."
It sure can help Jones in the Patriots. In fact, it already does -- a lot.
When using non-play-action vs. play-action, the second-year quarterback's Pro Football Focus passing grade jumps from 55.6 to 70.3. His passer rating goes from 93.1 to 104. His adjusted completion percentage goes from 73.4 to 82.6. His turnover-worthy play percentage drops from 4.1 to 1.8, and his big-time throw percentage climbs from 5.8 to 3.5.
Then, there's the fact that the Patriots have actually been the most efficient team in football this year at using play-action on first and second downs despite using play-action less than any other team.
That's a lot of stats, so let's boil it down: play-action has made Mac Jones a better quarterback this season, but the Patriots don't want to use it.
Maybe they don't feel the offensive line or running backs are good enough to protect those plays consistently. Maybe Jones himself doesn't like turning his back to the defense on under-center play-actions. Who knows?
But the numbers are clear, and they make a lot of sense given how much the Patriots love establishing the run.
Interestingly, play-action has also been helping Jones keep the ball out of harm's way. His average depth of target is absurdly high on non-play-action throws (9.2) compared to play-action reps (5.6), which feels like the inverse of what should be happening.
New England keeps on dialing up deep concepts on standard drop-backs and expecting Jones to make it work without great protection, and it hasn't worked all season for various reasons. On play-action throws, he's shown an affinity not just for hitting the likes of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith over the middle but also finding his checkdowns out of the backfield when needed. Whatever comfort issues Jones had with play-action last year or might have now don't seem to be effecting his play on those snaps.
Long story short, there's no excuse for the Patriots not to lean into the thing they're arguably doing best on offense right now: running play-action. You'd think even a defensive guy calling offensive plays might've figured that out by now.