FOXBORO — Despite a week’s worth of speculation to the contrary, the identity of the New England Patriots starting quarterback for Week 4 is now known.
Per the team’s final injury and practice participation report issued on Friday, Mac Jones has officially been ruled out for Sunday’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field due to an ankle injury.
Jones suffered the injury on the final offensive play of New England’s 37-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. An initial MRI was taken on Monday, which reportedly indicated that he had indeed suffered a severe high ankle sprain. Since that time, several outlets (including Patriots Country) reported that Jones was exploring all available treatment options, including seeking a second opinion before determining whether to undergo surgery.
Though Jones apparently made numerous efforts to make himself available to play, Friday’s designation confirmed that the ball will be handed to primary backup quarterback Brian Hoyer.
The 14-year veteran has made 40 career starts at quarterback. Yet, Sunday will mark only his second as a member of the Patriots. Hoyer’s previous start for New England came in 2020, when then-starting quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19. With less than two days to prepare, Hoyer and the Patriots offense struggled in a 26-10 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He finished the night having completed 15-of-24 passes for 130 yards and one interception, before being relieved by fellow reserve quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Having the advantage of a full week of preparation will serve Hoyer well in attempting to navigate the Patriots offense against a solid Green Bay defense. Though Hoyer’s mechanics are similar to that of Jones, New England will likely amend some elements of their offense to suit the 36-year-old’s strengths. One such adjustment is likely to mean a reduction in downfield throws.
Utilizing the vertical passing game had been one of Jones’ most notable strengths during his time at the University of Alabama. Therefore, the Patriots offense coaching staff has made a concerted effort to incorporate throws of this type into their offense. As pointed out by Patriots.com earlier this week, Jones is tied for third in the NFL in average air yards per pass attempt (10.4) and has attempted a league-high 20 passes of 20-plus air yards throughout his first three games. Had Jones suited up for Week 4, he would have undoubtedly continued this trend, especially with Green Bay’s star cornerback Jaire Alexander battling a groin injury.
However, Hoyer’s passing game is much more effective in short yardage situations. Also, the Packers defensive front has been dominating the line of scrimmage throughout the early stages of the season, allowing only 302 yards per game overall. Green Bay ranks seventh in the league by allowing 189.3 yards per game through the air, while surrendering just 113 yards per game on the ground.
In an effort to counteract the Packers ability to stifle the Pats offensive game plan, Hoyer will likely incorporate more quick-game concepts in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. Such a move would entail greater usage of tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith both over the middle and in the red zone. New England will also lean upon its rushing tandem of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. In the first three weeks of the season, the Pats are eighth in the league in expected points added per rushing attempt (+0.02) and tenth in success rate (44.9%). Despite dealing with a stout run defense, Hoyer should be expected to test the effectiveness of his runners’ early and often.
While facing one of the NFL’s most storied franchises (as well as in one of its most hallowed stadiums) is a daunting task for any quarterback, Hoyer’s experience and veteran savvy ensures that he is both ready and able to accept the task — a sentiment which he shared with reporters earlier this week.
“Anytime you get a chance to play at Lambeau, that's a pretty cool experience there,” Hoyer said. “It's a historic place. A historic organization … They have a great quarterback in Aaron [Rodgers]. Their defense, all around, they’re very solid. Whether it's the D-line, the linebackers, the defensive backs. It's a unique challenge. I heard today they're like 13-2 in their last 15 home games. So it's obviously a hostile environment to go into. But it's always a great opportunity to see where you're at too.”
Kickoff for the Patriots and Packers is set for 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 2.
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