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Command Performance: Will Mac Jones Lead the Patriots to Victory Over the Cowboys?

The Patriots’ rookie quarterback has demonstrated maturity and reliability under center in New England. Will it be enough to beat Dallas on Sunday?

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has certainly impressed his share of players, coaches, media and fans through the first five games of the 2021 NFL season. While the Pats first-round draft choice has been far from perfect this season, he has continually exuded a confidence and command at the helm of the Pats offense. He will need an equal, if not greater, effort and positive attitude in order to lead New England to victory this Sunday over the formidable Dallas Cowboys.

The word ‘command’ seems to be synonymous with Jones, as of late. When speaking with reporters on Thursday, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy praised the Pats young quarterback’s maturity and poise, using ‘command’ multiple times in his description of Jones’ prowess:

“I think he looks very, very comfortable, confident, in-command of the offense,” McCarthy said of Jones. “It doesn’t look like they’re [Patriots coaching staff] holding anything back. (He) can make all the throws, so I think he’s off to an excellent start.”

Despite being 2-3 through his first five games of the season, Jones is indeed off to a great start for his NFL career. In fact, he is quickly becoming one of the most accurate rookie passers in recent memory. The 23-year-old now has 135 completions, tying him with Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow for the most by any rookie quarterback in his first five starts in NFL history. He is exhibiting a great deal of accuracy, completing just over 71 percent of his passes on the season; including a 78 percent completion percentage on Sunday against the Texans. Jones was also quite efficient off play-action, where he completed 9-of-11 passes, averaging 11.6 yards per attempt. Perhaps his most impressive stat in Week Five was his 70 percent conversion rate (7-of-10) on third down.

Though Jones had his share of ups and downs against Houston in Week Five, he turned in a strong performance when his team needed it most. Once again, the rookie demonstrated a poise beyond his years, leading the Patriots on what will be credited as his first game-winning drive, culminating in Nick Folk’s 21-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter. Of course, it is only fair to note that Jones did make at least three ill-advised throws, only one of which was intercepted. Still he remained undaunted in his pursuit of the win.

With the 4-1 Cowboys set to ‘ride on into’ Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the Pats face challenges on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Cowboys have been among the top teams in the league at finding the end zone. Quarterback Dak Prescott has been masterful, compiling 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, while posting a 116.9 passer rating. In addition to pass-catching threats such as receivers Amari Cooper (318 yards, 4 TDs), CeeDee Lamb (348 yards, 2 touchdowns), as well as tight end Dalton Schultz (280 yards, 3 TDs) the Cowboys also feature a pair of prolific running backs in Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard. As a result, matching the Cowboys point-for-point on Sunday might be a nearly insurmountable task.

While Jones will obviously not be tasked with stopping Dallas’ offense on Sunday, the Cowboys’ ability to score may have a significant impact on the Patriots young signal-caller. Should Dallas get out to a quick offensive start, the Pats may be forced to forsake their running game to put points on the board, thus keeping pace with their opponents. As a result, Jones would be expected to orchestrate a productive passing attack.

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Though New England’s pass catchers may not boast the statistics of their Dallas counterparts, there is still talent in that department. Receiver Jakobi Meyers remains Jones’ most reliable option, having been targeted 46 times. Tight end Hunter Henry has been the most-targeted tight end, with 26. Each has begun to separate himself from the pack, as a potential favorite of the Pats’ quarterback.

However, on Sunday, Jones may be wise to test the versatility of some other offensive skill position players. Both Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have demonstrated an ability to get open down the field. With the Cowboys’ defense surrendering an average of 311 yards per game through the air, Jones might find some success testing the Dallas secondary by targeting Agholor, as well as Bourne when he aligns on the outside.

This, however, is where the plot thickens…

Despite Dallas’ penchant to allow notable air yardage, they employ one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in the NFL. Cornerback Trevon Diggs leads the team with six interceptions, earning at least one in every game played, thus far. If Jones wishes to test the Cowboys’ secondary, he will need to display the same accuracy and control that has earned him praise from both his colleagues and his competition. Therefore, New England might be wise to utilize the versatility of tight end Jonnu Smith, both as a red zone target and as a carrier from the backfield. Smith has yet to emerge as the dual-threat, which Patriots fans expected when he was signed by the club in the offseason. However, Smith can be very effective in short yardage situations. With Dallas’ ability to get pressure on the passer, Jones will need to move the ball with the short passes he has used so effectively this season.

In the final analysis, Jones will face a tough task in attempting to lead the Patriots to victory over the Cowboys on Sunday. Still, the path to success does exist. If the Pats’ rookie is able to get a fair amount of pass protection from his offensive line, he has the ability to move the ball against the Dallas defense. To do so, he will need to pull upon what Cowboys’ head coach Mike McCarthy referred to as ‘command’ of the Patriots offense.

“He’s definitely a young quarterback that’s high in instinct and awareness, and I think that definitely has transferred to the NFL [from Alabama.] I like the way he anticipates, and I think he’s particularly — for as young as he is in the process, he has excellent command of the offense.”

This is a point not lost on Jones, either. He realizes that poise will only carry him to a certain point. From there, he will need to shed the ball quickly, while maintaining an accurate and timely delivery. When speaking to the media on Wednesday, the 15th overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft had the following to say regarding the improvements he expects to make for this Week Six matchup:

“I’d say just sticking to my reads and following what they’re telling me to do,” Jones said. It’s not that I don’t know what to do. It’s just, sometimes, I might skip something or see something. I just need to stick to what I’ve been taught and do it and just play. At the end of the day, you can’t go out there and have sticky fingers. You’ve got to kind of react and play how you know how to play. Sometimes I might see something that some people don’t see, but at the same time, when we watch the film, we always get back on the same page, and I’ve just got to do a better job of that and realizing that they don’t have to touch the ball. You can do other things, throw the ball away, whatever, just to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Without question, the Dallas Cowboys will be a tough opponent. However, the New England Patriots have suitable talent to pull-off the victory in Week Six. With a great deal of help from his defense, Mac Jones can make a statement on Sunday…and he may do so with a ‘command’ performance.