Did Mac Jones Create A Blueprint For Mike White Against the Vikings?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

When the Minnesota Vikings hosted the New England Patriots, nobody thought Mac Jones would be a focal point of the game plan. One week after being thrown around by the Dallas Cowboys, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Bill Belichick would deploy his running game to bully the Vikings’ defense and grind out a victory.

But when Belichick threw on the tape, he saw another weakness – the Vikings’ secondary.

To the surprise of many, Belichick ordered Jones to throw the ball 39 times against the Vikings, compared to just 13 attempts from his running game. Jones racked up a career-high 382 yards in the air with two (and almost three) touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to come away with the win.

Nearly 1,200 miles away and three days later, another unheralded quarterback rose from the ashes. After New York Jets’ offense cratered against these same Patriots a week ago, Robert Saleh benched Zach Wilson in favor of Mike White and immediately saw positive results. White revived the Jets, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Chicago Bears.

While Jones is a first-round quarterback and White is a fifth-rounder, they could share something in common. Jones’s success throwing the ball against the Vikings could create a blueprint for White as the Jets head to Minnesota on Sunday. While the thought of White pulling off a victory seems insane, it sounds crazy enough to work.

It goes back to Belichick devising his game plan for last week. The Patriots could have decided to punch the Vikings in the mouth and see how they responded, but the truth is that their run defense hasn’t been a weakness.

The Vikings rank 15th in rushing yards allowed per game this season (114.6) and 12th in yards per attempt (4.3). This looks even better, considering that Minnesota runs a nickel base that primarily uses six men in the box. With the Vikings daring teams to run, Dallas has been the only opponent to take advantage, making it unlikely that the Patriots would have had the same success.

Meanwhile, teams have carved up the Vikings through the air all season long. Their 7.2 net yards allowed per attempt trails only the Chicago Bears (7.3) for the highest clip in the league. Their 276.1 passing yards allowed per game is the most in the NFL, and now injuries are beginning to take their toll.

Patrick Peterson has been a success for the Vikings this season, but Cameron Dantzler is currently out with an ankle injury. With Akayleb Evans in concussion protocol and Andrew Booth undergoing potential season-ending surgery, Minnesota was down to Peterson, Chandon Sullivan, who ranks 11th among qualifying corners with 1.56 coverage yards per snap in the slot, and Duke Shelley, who had played three coverage snaps all season.

All things considered, why wouldn’t Belichick and the Patriots look to exploit this? And why wouldn’t the Jets try to do the same thing? In New York’s case, it makes sense.

The Jets’ running game has struggled after Breece Hall tore his ACL in a Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos. The 36th-overall pick in last year’s draft was averaging 5.8 yards per carry before he went down, but New York has averaged just 110.5 yards per game in the four games after the injury, which would rank 22nd in the NFL this season.

Although Michael Carter, James Robinson, and Ty Johnson are capable running backs, none of them are players you can center an offense around, leaving the Jets to turn to their passing game.

Wilson’s struggles have been disappointing for the Jets, but it hasn’t been due to a lack of effort from the front office to get him weapons. Garrett Wilson (10th overall, 2022) had five catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. 2021 second-round pick Elijah Moore jumped off the milk carton to catch two passes for 64 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Bears.

Even Tyler Conklin, who left Minnesota via free agency last offseason, has been a solid addition. He caught 38 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns.

That made things easy for Wilson to get the ball to his weapons, but he couldn’t get the job done. White was able to execute the offense against Chicago, but his big game has a strange sense of deja vu.

White took over the Manhattan back pages for the first time on Halloween 2021 when he threw for 405 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in an upset over the Cincinnati Bengals. An injury limited him to just 95 yards and a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts the following week before a four-interception meltdown against the Buffalo Bills in his fourth and final start.

With an Oct. 24 start against the New England Patriots mixed in, White threw five touchdowns and eight interceptions while filling in for Wilson. While five of those interceptions came with a clean pocket, he wasn’t much better under pressure, posting a 67.8 passer rating on 45 dropbacks.

On Sunday, White had a much easier time and looked like an improved quarterback with a clean pocket. On 27 dropbacks, White posted a 131.1 passer rating and shredded the Chicago defense. While he posted a perfect passer rating (158.3) under pressure, a depleted Bears defense only pressured him on three attempts.

There’s a good chance that won’t be the case against the Vikings. Minnesota entered Thursday’s game with the Patriots with a pressure rate over 40% in four of its past six games. While they only generated pressure on 28.6% of Jones’ dropbacks, he posted a passer rating of 63.7 on those attempts.

The Jets ranked 28th in Pro Football Reference’s offensive line rankings ahead of Week 12, so the Vikings should have more success getting to White and making his life more difficult on Sunday afternoon.

But what about the rest of the season? Could a quarterback like Jared Goff, who has taken the Vikings down to the wire in all three of his starts since arriving in Detroit, take advantage of a shaky secondary? Could Matt Ryan find a fountain of youth in his return to Minnesota? Maybe Aaron Rodgers’s thumb will miraculously recover to stick it to the Vikings one more time.

It’s a concern that should carry through the end of the season. For now, the Vikings have to get healthy and weather the storm.

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