During the 2021 NFL season, Josh McDaniels tried to help New England Patriots quarterback Mack Jones win games. On Sunday, McDaniels aims to send Jones home the loser.
McDaniels resigned as New England’s offensive coordinator in January to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. CST Sunday at 3:05 p.m., the Patriots and Raiders will take the field at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
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Selected with the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft after an All-American and national championship season at Alabama, Jones started every game of his rookie season, including a playoff contest, for New England under McDaniels.
“I think Josh is a great coach, a great person, just a great leader,” Jones said Thursday. “You prepared me very well last year. Obviously, he had a chance to coach the football team, and he did a great job. After all, we are against their protection. Then, of course, they will go against our defense. You have to look at it that way. But he knows a lot about us. Then, of course, we know them too. I think it’s a good match.”
McDaniels also had good things to say about Jones, hoping to give his former student a hard time on Sunday.
“Mac is very bright,” McDaniels said Friday. “It’s hard to fool him. Very accurate, sees everything well. Plays with anticipation in the passing game. Has great touch and accuracy. I mean, from his college career, what he did there, last year to this year, just the ability to win, to make big plays. Keeps fighting and keeps working even when there is some adversity. Very cool. Very tough, you know, standing there and punching him in the mouth and continuing to play. Got a lot of respect and admiration for what he did last year, what he did in college and what he’s doing this year. Just a solid player any way you want to look at it.
“He’s a solid player at that position and it’s hard to upset a guy like that. He’s just a competitive guy, so we’re going to try to make our defense, whatever the call, the best we can this term and continue to do that. Make it as difficult as possible, as best we can. We know it’s going to be some plays on both sides of the ball, so we’re going to have to fight and play as it comes.”
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But does McDaniels’ primary role in Jones’ NFL development give the Raiders inside knowledge that Las Vegas could use?
“We’ll see, no, I guess,” Jones said. “He knows me pretty well. But at the end of the day, like I always say, they can do whatever they want. They can blitz the 11; they can’t blitz. Whatever they want to do, you just have to read it, react and make the play It is. The same goes for our defense. We went against them and that’s all, a lot of familiarity. But at the end of the day, it’s all about competition and just executing and doing the fundamentals right, and then we’ll see where we are.”
McDaniel might not be as familiar with the Patriots playbook as Jones. New England changed its offensive scheme in the offseason to play faster.
With former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia playing this season, Jones’ stats are pretty close to last year’s numbers for the most part. He averaged 30.5 assists per game in 2002 compared to 30.6 last season. Jones completed 68.2 percent of his passes and averaged 10.6 yards in 2022. In 2021, those numbers were 67.6 percent and 10.8 yards. Jones’ interception rate was 2.5 percent last year and 2.6 this year.
But Jones’ passer efficiency rating dropped from 92.5 to 85.7 (25th in the NFL) as he attempts touchdowns at a reduced rate. He had 22 TD passes last season. He’s on seven (with eight interceptions) in 2022.
“I think Josh was a great coach and we still have great coaches,” Jones said. “I just have to learn from everyone. Whoever trains you, just learn from them. Everyone is a little different. I learned that in Alabama. It just had different coordinators, but the same system worked. This is where we are. Just try to learn from everyone and take something away – a good thing – and add it to your bankroll of what you can do.
“I’m really glad to have experience with him. Then obviously this year we worked on a lot of things, got experience with the guys that we have and they did a great job. Like I said, there’s crossover, but we’re also doing new things as well.”
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McDaniels spent one season with Jones. He was on New England coach Bill Belichick’s staff for 18 seasons.
“Competing with people doesn’t mean hating them or anything like that,” McDaniels said. “But of course you can want to beat them as bad or worse than they want to beat you. I’m sure that’s how they feel about us as I sit here. There is a football game on Sunday. It’s not really a reunion. That’s not really what it’s about.”
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Mark Inabinet is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @AMarkG1.