How Mac Jones showed impressive toughness in the pocket vs. Eagles originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FOXBORO -- Mac Jones was sacked only twice on 58 dropbacks Sunday against what is assumed to be one of the best defensive lines in football. But he was under pressure on almost a third of those snaps (31 percent, per Pro Football Focus), meaning he was his own best protection for the vast majority of the afternoon.
How'd he do it?
The ball was out quickly. The combination of Bill O'Brien play-calls designed to protect an overmatched offensive line along with Jones' understanding of where his quick-game answers were situated on a play-to-play basis helped lead the quarterback to have the seventh-fastest release time in the NFL in Week 1 (2.90 seconds average). Screens were a key part of the plan, as Jones targeted 13 of his attempts behind the line of scrimmage. The ball was out in 1.35 seconds on those throws.
Jones also did his fair share of work on the move against the Eagles. He's not viewed as a roll-out, scramble-to-throw player -- and that's not what he was in Week 1. But he was on the move within the pocket as much as any quarterback in football. Sports Info Solutions tracks quarterback attempts based on their footwork at the time of the throw, and Jones was tied for the league lead -- alongside Patrick Mahomes -- with 16 attempts that were tracked as either "moving" or "shuffling." Thirteen of those 16 attempts came within the pocket, per SIS, which also led the league.
There were also times when Jones knew contact was coming and there was no avoiding it. With 30 seconds left in the first half, and with bodies near his feet, he found JuJu Smith-Schuster near the sideline for a completion. On the next snap, he hit Kendrick Bourne for a 19-yard score. Later in the game, facing a critical third-and-12 situation, Jones took a massive hit off his front side -- he likely knew it was headed his way -- and still delivered a strike to Bourne that bounced away incomplete.
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) September 12, 2023
"I take a lot of pride in that," Jones said Wednesday. "Standing in there. Taking shots when I have to. Just continuing to be a pro in that manner. Always felt like, as a quarterback, you had to show that in your own way. Some guys do it differently than others. But you also have to be smart.
"This is a league full of a lot of really good players and they're coming to knock your head off, so gotta make sure you show that fashion and show it in unique ways. For me, it's standing in the pocket and ripping it."
That approach is something that the big bodies in front of Jones -- guys who value toughness as one of the most important tools of their trade -- can appreciate.
"I think Mac did a lot of really good things in the pocket for us last week," center David Andrews said. "Moving in the pocket, understanding in the pocket where his problems are, what he needs to do. Offensive football is a team sport... Receivers gotta run the right routes so therefore the ball can come out. Offensive line obviously has to do our job. Mac did a great job for us this week, understanding situations.
"We talk about toughness as an o-line, running backs. But I think as a quarterback to stand in there and take some shots and deliver the ball, that's how a quarterback shows his toughness. I think he did a really good job for us. Sometimes you don't notice it during the game because it's the game and you're not seeing everything. But then you get home and watch the film and you're watching him stand in there, knowing he's going to take a shot, delivering the ball, I think that shows a lot of maturity and toughness from him.
"We gotta do a better job of keeping him upright and not letting him take some of those shots, but I thought he did a really good job for us on Sunday."
There's a chance Jones will have to stand in and do more of the same on Sunday night against the Dolphins. It's unclear whether or not starting guards Cole Strange or Mike Onwenu will be ready to play. And Miami's defense features talented players in the trenches like Christian Wilkins, Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips.
But if that's the spot he's put in, he made it clear in his season debut he's willing and able to do what it takes to mitigate pressure when it's up to him.