Jack Jones has never met a throw he’s not ready to attack, and the rookie cornerback sensation struck again last Sunday against the Detroit Lions, picking off quarterback Jared Goff in the red zone during the first quarter for his second swipe in as many weeks.
Perhaps more impressive than the ball skills he displayed to make the catch and get his feet inbounds as he fell along the sideline was the un-rookie-like swiftness with which he diagnosed the play and jumped Goff’s wheel route to tight end T.J. Hockenson. He even seemed to leave his original assignment in zone coverage, trusting Goff’s eyes to take him to the football.
But Patriots cornerback coach Mike Pelligrino isn’t worried about Jones getting a reputation as a “freelancer” while trying to make big plays.
“Jack’s ability to go make that play just speaks for his instincts right there. Really less of being greedy and more being opportunistic,” Pelligrino said of his rookie playmaker. “That’s what we talk about all the time is being opportunistic when the moment comes to go make that play and really go make a difference in that game.”
A closer look at the film also suggests Jones didn’t go rogue as much as people thought he did at first.
With the Patriots in Cover 4 on the play, the Lions tried to test the young cornerback with a post-wheel combination. Jones funnels the post into his safety help since it’s the only route in his area at first, but his responsibility remains anything outside the numbers to the sideline.
He understands the assignment, doesn’t stray outside of his landmark and has the awareness to spy the sideline route as well as the footwork to drive on it. That’s an A-plus play for the swaggering young defensive back, who now has three takeaways in his last two contests.
Speaking of which: Pelligrino has no problem with Jones’ energy or the fact that the cornerback takes it personally when opponents target him.
“Confidence is key at the [cornerback] position,” the coach said. “You go out there and be a corner in the NFL and doubt yourself. So you go out there, you play confident, you play aggressive, you play fast, and usually good things happen. But again…good discipline and being opportunistic in those moments is really the critical factor to complement the confidence.”
Right now, Jones’ confidence is being matched well both by his grasp of his responsibilities on the field and a knack for making plays on the ball when he’s tested. That’s a heck of a combination for a guy just playing his fifth NFL game.