Everything is bigger in Texas! Right?
Well, it would be nice if that translated to the Patriots’ passing game in Sunday evening’s trip to Dallas to take on the Cowboys (2-1).
Because aside from a couple outliers, including last Sunday’s critical-but-can’t-be-counted-on 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown by blocking tight end Pharaoh Brown, the New England (1-2) offense has lacked much big-play power through three games this season.
It’s a big problem for a team that ranks near the bottom of the NFL in scoring through three weeks. And those in the Gillette Stadium locker room wearing those spiffy new “No one is coming. It’s up to us.” sweatshirts know it. In fact, in a rarity in Foxborough, they actually talked about the problem with the lack of big plays in the passing game this week.
“We’ve got to hit them, we’ve got to throw them and we need more production out of the deep
Balls,” Bill Belichick said this week. “I mean, not every play is going to be a 40-yard pass, but the ones that we throw during the game 30-yards, 40-yards, 25-yards, whatever it is, we want to be productive on those plays.
So, we just need to keep working on them.”
“I love chunk plays,” quarterback Mac Jones declared. “My whole career, I’ve kind of thrived off those, play action and normal chunk plays, so just trying to keep doing them. You’ve got to keep the hook in the water, I guess they say, so you’ve got to have the bait out there and continue to fish, you know? I think we’ll hit them. We’re working on it.”
The coach may desire them. The quarterback may believe in them. But the team isn’t getting the big plays.
Jones is 27th in the NFL in yards per attempt (5.98). He’s 29th in average yards of completion (4.6). That despite ranking 9th in the league in average pass length (8.5).
The numbers are even uglier for his receivers. Rookie Demario Douglas is the only Patriots wide receiver with a pass reception longer than 20 yards and the only target of any type with at least three catches who is averaging more than 10 yards per reception.
Jones’ top six targets, compiling 64 of his 81 completions on the season, are all averaging less than 10 yards per catch.
Sure, some of this is a result of a passing game that’s dealt with a suspect, patchwork offensive line against pretty imposing pass rushes. Getting the ball out of Jones’ hands has been a priority. But Jones has thrown 23 passes of 20 yards or more and only two have been completed. That’s not nearly good enough, even with the given that deeper passes have a lower success rate in general.
And big plays don’t just have to come in the passing game. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson, he and his putrid 2.9-yard rushing average through three games, proclaimed this week that, “I just have to get back to making people miss and breaking some more tackles.”
Indeed, big plays in the running game might open up some big plays in the passing game. And vice versa.
The good news? This might be the week to turn things around in the big-play game for New England.
Sunday at AT&T Stadium Bill O’Brien’s attack will face a Cowboys defense without its best coverage player in Trevon Diggs. The unit gave up seven plays of 20 yards or longer in last week’s upset loss to Arizona, including a 69-yard pass play. Three different Cardinals had runs longer than 26 yards.
Life in the NFL is hard for any offense if you are forced into putting together long drives with regularity. Mistakes, as the Patriots have shown, happen. Those death-by-a-thousand-cut marches can stall quickly.
The answer to that is big plays. The answer is Stevenson bursting free for 40. The answer is someone, anyone in the receivers room in the form of Kendrick Bourne, JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker or anyone else jumpstarting the passing game.
Do the Patriots want more big plays? Absolutely.
Are the Patriots capable of making more big plays? Probably?
Despite his fishing analogy, Jones admitted that he’s not really much of a fisherman. But his point remains.
“Not really. I mean, you’re not going to catch anything if you don’t keep throwing them, you know
what I’m saying?”
We do. And Sunday in Big D against a Cowboys defense without its best coverage player and coming off a loss in which it gave up some serious chunk plays might be the perfect time for New England to start getting its big-play game going.
After all, everything is supposed to be bigger in Texas.
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