Cassel: What to expect from Patriots' offense in Mac Jones' absence

Brian Hoyer Mac Jones

The New England Patriots have always preached a "next man up" mentality. If you're on the roster, you're there for a reason, and you have to be ready when your number is called.

This is Brian Hoyer's third stint with the Patriots. So, I know he has a comfort level with Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, and there will be good communication between them because they know his success will be directly related to the team's success.

I really don't see the Patriots simplifying their offense with Mac Jones out, because if you look at Jones and Brian Hoyer, they're similar quarterbacks in terms of their mode of operations in the pocket. I wouldn't call Hoyer's agility elite, but his ability to process and his understanding of this offense should be at a high level. He went through the whole offseason, he had a good preseason and there's a comfort level there.

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It's not like they're playing a young quarterback in his first start. This guy's been around for a long time. He can handle the mental side. He can handle the audibles at the line. He's a smart guy. That's the main reason why he's been there for so long.


So, I think the Patriots will try to run their same offense and build off what they've found success with early in the season -- and there was a lot to build on last week.

Expect the downfield shots to continue

We saw Mac Jones open it up against Baltimore and find success with "chunk plays," but a lot of his completions were within 25 to 30 yards where he put the ball in a good position. If you have good timing and accuracy and you get the ball out on time, it doesn't have to be a 50- or 60-yard throw. Most "go" routes are actually completed in the 30- to 35-yard range. That's pretty far down the field if you're in rhythm.

I know Hoyer is capable of those throws, so I believe the Patriots will continue to take shots downfield unless the defense is actively taking those shots away.

He's the guy pulling the trigger, and if there's a one-on-one matchup that's the matchup they want, he has to take the shot. Sometimes those "50-50 balls" don't always work out, but as we saw with Nelson Agholor in Week 2, they can change the game if completed. So the Patriots shouldn't just tell Brian, "Protect the ball at all costs; if your No. 1 option isn't there, just run the ball." He still has to go through his progressions and execute the offense confidently.

He has to trust his preparation. The overall philosophy of a quarterback is to protect the football, but you can't play the game scared. So, you just have to trust that you'll make good decisions, and that includes taking shots when you have the opportunity.

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I do believe they need to run the ball consistently, and that's one aspect where they might change their game plan a little bit to lean heavier into the run. But you can't just go into a game saying, "We're going to run the ball." The Packers will be prepared for the Patriots to run the ball this Sunday, and there's a chance they load the box to force the Patriots to throw the ball.

If that happens, Hoyer has to be able to pivot and say, "Hey guys, we might have to go outside to win this game." There are situations where Hoyer will have to throw to prevent the Packers from sitting on his intermediate and short routes. And I think he's capable of making those throws.

How long is Hoyer's leash?

The Patriots' top priority this week will be taking care of the ball. I know they're preaching that this week -- they're telling whoever carries the ball to take ownership of ball security, because fate of the offense is in their hands. I know Hoyer understands the importance of ball security as well, and his play will dictate how long the Patriots stick with him.

If he's displaying a full understanding of what they're trying to accomplish, operating well at the line of scrimmage and taking care of the football, then he could be in there for the duration of Mac Jones' absence. But if they're desperate to get something going on offense and he's turning the ball over, that's when they may turn to Bailey Zappe to see if he can give him the spark they need.


That said, they're going to fully support Hoyer. You want your quarterback to feel comfortable and confident, and a big part of getting a backup ready to play is making them understand they have the full support of the coaching staff and players.

When I took over for Tom Brady in 2008, I hadn't started a game since high school. But everyone was supportive and rallied behind me in the locker room.

Why Mac Jones still has reason for optimism

There's definitely a level of frustration with Mac Jones right now. You can see it on the sideline when things don't go right: He holds himself and his teammates accountable.

I know that this last game didn't turn out the way that he wanted it, and injuries are always frustrating. But this offensive unit has gotten better each week and just had its most productive game overall against the Ravens. If they eliminate the turnovers, they probably win that game.

They're just three games into a 17-game season and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you, he just wants to get back out there and eliminate the mistakes. Is there a lot more work to be done? Yes. But he should be eager to get back out there and change the narrative by picking up some wins.

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.