Bill Belichick’s resume against rookie quarterbacks is well-known.
He’s been a master at confusing, confounding and conquering young signal-callers and, on Sunday, Belichick and his New England Patriots will have the opportunity to do just that against Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars’ tribulations have been abundant, and Lawrence’s struggles have, as well.
Belichick, however, believes he’s seen progress in the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall selection — or at least that’s the message he’s delivering days before he looks for his defense to take down Lawrence.
“I think he’s gotten more comfortable as the season’s gone on and gotten comfortable with the offense,” Belichick said Friday, via team transcript. “I’d say the offense has gotten comfortable with the things that he does best. Definitely, a good level of execution there. They did a good job last week against the Jets, mixing in different varieties of passes: quick throws, moving pocket throws, deep balls, third down conversions, red area plays. He’s pretty good at all of them and continues to get better. I think he’s had a good year and I think he’ll be a solid NFL player, maybe great. I don’t know, but he’s certainly made a lot of progress this year.”
Solid NFL player? Maybe even great.
While the Jaguars franchise is no doubt looking for Lawrence to be great, he’s struggled throughout Jacksonville’s 2-13 campaign. He has just nine touchdowns to 13 interceptions and his 70.6 passer rating is 31st among qualified NFL quarterbacks.
Lawrence, who as Belichick alluded to is coming off a solid showing in Week 16 against the Jets with 280 yards and no interceptions, will have an arduous task on Sunday facing the NFL’s third-ranked defense.
Then there’s Belichick’s history against fresh-faced QBs.
Rookie quarterbacks are 8-24 all time against Belichick-coached teams, per NFL Research. This season, they’re 0-3 (the Jets’ Zach Wilson went 0-2 and the Texans’ Davis Mills also lost to the Patriots). Against first-year QBs selected No. 1 overall, Belichick is 1-2, having bested Jared Goff (Rams) and Andrew Luck (Colts) and lost to the Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe when he was coaching the Browns.
While Lawrence will face Belichick’s ballyhooed defense he’ll also find himself battling it out with another first-round rookie QB in the Patriots’ Mac Jones.
Jones, like his Patriots, has fallen upon hard times as of late. Amid New England’s current two-game skid, Jones has put up back-to-back two-interception games and in a Week 16 loss to the Buffalo Bills produced a season-worst 31.4 QB rating.
Still, Jones’ 90.2 rating for the season is 18th in the league and tops the rookie class. He’s also a win away from becoming the first rookie quarterback since Dak Prescott in 2016 with double-digit victories and could potentially clinch a New England playoff berth.
“I think Mac’s been pretty consistent,” Belichick said. “He’s consistent day to day and week to week. Honestly, I think he’s one of our most consistent players. He works hard. He continues to improve. There are new things every week from a game plan scheme, matchups standpoint, but he continues to gain experience processing those and doesn’t repeat many errors. There’s a lot of new things for him, lot of new things that he hasn’t seen, things that come up, but again, he handles those pretty quickly, pretty well, and pretty consistently. I think he’s one of our most consistent players.”
His consistency and play overall has obviously taken a hit over the past two losses.
Whether dealing with that adversity will be a plus remains to be seen.
“We all learn from experience and we all gain experience, even those of us that have been around for a while,” Belichick said. “You’re always learning things every day and certainly things about the team that you’re with and situations that are specific to that current year. I’m sure everything will benefit everybody and I think he’s done a good job of taking advantage of the opportunities that he’s had: practice, meetings, film, games, postgame analysis, and so forth. Continue to improve as a player, improve his preparation, improve his processing.”
As Jones looks to improve from his recent adversity, Belichick’s Patriots will no doubt look to provide plenty of adversity for Lawrence come Sunday.
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