Mac Jones may be struggling to keep track of the traffic behind him on the quarterback depth chart for the New England Patriots. That’s hardly Jones’ fault because the powers that be at Gillette Stadium hardly seem capable of making up their minds about who should be the team’s QB2 during the 2023 NFL season.
Bailey Zappe is back and Matt Corral is out in the latest shakeup. Zappe’s ascension back to the 53-man roster from the practice squad was reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Saturday, September 9.
Corral’s arrival became necessary after neither Zappe nor undrafted free agent Malik Cunningham survived roster cuts. Head coach Bill Belichick’s rapid about turn on former Carolina Panthers’ third-round draft pick Corral feels like it ought to have set some kind of record.
The reversion to Zappe for Week 1’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, September 10 is interesting because the Pats’ fourth-round pick a year ago performed well as a rookie. Zappe even looked like a legitimate challenger to Jones before a lukewarm offseason encouraged Belichick to jettison the popular passer.
Popular Passer Gets Another Chance
Zappe earned plaudits and admirers after he threw for five touchdowns and posted a 2-0 record in relief of Jones last season. While Jones could only muster a mere 6.8 yards per attempt and a 65.2 completion percentage, Zappe generated 8.5 yards per attempt and completed 70.7 percent of his passes.
The difference between the two quarterbacks was obvious. Zappe made the Patriots a more expansive offense through the air, something shown by how many passes he threw “beyond the sticks” during a 38-15 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, per Pro Football Focus.
It was somewhat surprising Zappe couldn’t use the positive moments from his debut pro season to create a genuine quarterback controversy.
Instead, Zappe “backslid this offseason,” according to NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran.
Zappe’s regression prompted Belichick to seek other alternatives at football’s most important position. The search took the Patriots to Corral, but their assessment of the former Ole Miss standout proved wrong.
Patriots Expected Too Much of Matt Corral
As ESPN’s Mike Reiss put it, Belichick wanted to improve his options behind Jones, but his faith in Corral was misplaced: “Thought process was to upgrade No. 2 spot, projected Matt Corral might do that, but projection didn’t unfold the way he envisioned.”
It’s a tough outcome for Corral, but it could hardly have ended any other way, according to Mike Giardi of the Boston Sports Journal. Giardi believes expecting Corral to interpret and understand the playbook in such a short timeframe represented “delusional thinking.”
That’s an indictment of Belichick and the Patriots’ strategy at quarterback. A muddled plan has prompted more questions than answers at a moment when the whole offense is in transition thanks to Bill O’Brien returning to replace former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as play-caller.
O’Brien’s remit is to help Jones make strides as a passer. A more expansive scheme and a better receiving corps led by free-agent arrivals JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Gesicki will help, but so would some legitimate competition from Zappe.
There have to be doubts about his ability to prove the right level of competition, since the Patriots themselves don’t appear able to decide if Zappe is up to the job.