Three keys to unlocking Mac Jones in Patriots QB's second season

Cassel: Three keys to unlocking Mac Jones in QB's second season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Last week was a step in the right direction for Mac Jones.

He got a big win over a divisional opponent in a hostile environment, and he got the support of his team and his coaching staff after the game. That should give him and the offense confidence going forward that they can stack a few wins together and potentially change the narrative surrounding the early part of the season.

There's still plenty of room for improvement in the New England Patriots' offense, though. Here are a few keys that could help Jones play at a higher level going forward:

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Find continuity up front

Having a cohesive offensive line that works well together, understands each other and plays in the same spots each week is ideal for a quarterback. When you shift from offensive tackle to guard like Isaiah Wynn did Sunday, those are two totally different positions in terms of how you pass block versus how you run block. It's not just different physically, but it's also different mentally.

That's why a guy like David Andrews is so important, too. He's the "quarterback" of the offensive line who handles all of the communication up front. As a quarterback, you rely on your center to be an extension of you to set up protection schemes and be an extra set of eyes on the line.

That's not to say James Ferentz can't do a capable job, but they've had a lot of moving parts on the offensive line over the past few weeks. If they can find more consistency and cohesiveness over the next few weeks, that should work to Mac Jones' advantage.

Get ahead of the sticks

Another key to Jones' success is being productive on first and second down, so the Patriots don't get stuck in third-and-long passing situations.

When you're in obvious passing situations against a talented defensive front like the Jets, they can pin their ears back. That stresses your protection and makes it that more difficult for your blocking to hold up when the defense knows a pass is coming.

That goes hand-in-hand with the running game. I don't think they've been as productive running the ball recently to get into third-and-manageable situations. So, running the ball effectively, finding success with screens and the quick passing game -- all of that will help Mac Jones be more comfortable in the pocket when he drops back to pass.

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The Patriots face another good defensive front Sunday, so it will be up to the offensive line to have success against the Colts' front four and get to the "second level" in the running game. If the offensive line can step up and protect the interior part of the pocket -- particularly against a guy like DeForest Buckner -- that will give Jones the confidence to step up and deliver quality throws.

Push the pace

I liked the up-tempo offense the Patriots ran in the second half against the Jets. It was a good change of pace that kept the defense off-balance and prevented the defense from disguising its coverages. The Patriots don't need to major in it, but it's something that Mac Jones does well and looks comfortable doing, since he ran an up-tempo offense at Alabama.

When you run an up-tempo offense, that can help to simplify the defense from a quarterback's perspective. The defense needs to make its calls quickly as you get to the line of scrimmage, so they're not able to disguise coverages as much. They have to just get lined up, so sometimes you can see what coverage they're in right away.

You don't need to snap the ball right away, either. You can take your time at the line of scrimmage and even call an audible while the defense is set to get a better sense of what they're in.

The biggest key to victory this week is starting fast. This offense has struggled to get going early in games with the exception of Detroit and Cleveland, which were both blowouts.

If they can start fast, run the ball effectively and get ahead on first and second downs, they'll force the Colts to play from behind, which would pose a major challenge for a young quarterback like Sam Ehlinger.

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.