Mac Jones is all the things that the New England Patriots are looking for.
He fits the structure of this offense very well. He obviously has high intellect. He’s a guy who understands football and what’s being asked of him. He absolutely can have success in the NFL.
He’ll have to stay within himself, but he’s made this much progress already, and you can see he’s very comfortable with getting in and out of the huddle and making line calls.
We have to temper our expectations. We have to understand he’s still a rookie and that mistakes will be made. He might miss a blitz or miss a check at times. But that's all part of his growth.
After watching him in the preseason, I think he’s ready for this. He played at Alabama with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, a good offensive mind who was my coach at USC. So, he’s familiar with that type of offense. He’s been on big stages before, so I don’t think he’ll be overwhelmed by any means.
I know Josh McDaniels thinks the world of this kid, and the Patriots wouldn’t have named him the starter if they didn’t think he was ready to play, so I’m excited to watch him.
Josh does a great job with preparation. The coaching staff probably started breaking down Dolphins film a few weeks ago by putting stats together for the game plan: Miami's third-down percentages from last year, when they're most likely to blitz, what they do in the red zone, etc.
Jones was probably introduced to all of that last week, which is a good head start for him as a rookie. This week, it’s really dialing in on, “How do we want to attack the defense? What do we do well?"
McDaniels and Bill Belichick have probably helped Mac understand, "OK, these are the plays that you’re most comfortable with after watching you this offseason and preseason. These are the plays that we think you can have success with versus this defense." And then you get out to practice and rep them. Some of these plays are going to look good and some aren’t, and it’s their decision of whether to take them out of the game plan.
This week's game plan should start with the run game. The strength of this Patriots offense is the offensive line: the ability to run the ball consistently and control the line of scrimmage. That’s going to be Jones' best friend, particularly early in the game.
Everything will come off of that run game. If they can run the ball for positive yards and stay in reasonable third-down situations, they can also set up their play-action pass. Very much like the preseason, you should see them run the ball with authority out of some two-back and two-tight-end sets, then set up play-action passes off those same looks to hopefully get behind the defense for some chunk plays.
The Dolphins will challenge Jones early, and he'll need to be prepared for everything. But in naming Jones the starter, the Patriots made a statement that they believe he's capable of taking over in Week 1 of an NFL season as a rookie.
It’s the start of a new era. It’s your first-round draft pick, and a first-round pick hasn't started for the Patriots at quarterback on opening weekend since Drew Bledsoe in 1993. So, there’s a lot of anticipation, and everybody wants to see how this young kid does when he makes his NFL debut.
It should be a fun weekend.
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Editor's Note: Matt Cassel played 14 years in the NFL as a quarterback, including four with the Patriots from 2005 to 2008. He serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Boston, appearing on Pre/Postgame Live, as a guest on Tom Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast every Thursday, and as a columnist each week during the season.