What the New Orleans Saints see in New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones isn't a raw, unpolished NFL player, so much as a piece of the puzzle who's fully capable of performing the duties New England assigns.
Jones, New England's first-round draft pick (No. 15 overall), beat out Cam Newton for the starting position and in the Patriots' first two games, a 17-16 loss to Miami and a 25-6 victory over the Jets, he was glaringly efficient.
He completed 74 percent of his passes (29 of 39) against Miami for 281 yards and a touchdown, without an interception, and followed by completing 73 percent (22 of 30) against the Jets for 186 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.
The Saints (1-1) play the Patriots (1-1) on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
"I think the No. 1 thing is he's protected the football for the most part, and I think that's critical," Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. "With any young quarterback and certainly, when you look at what Coach (Bill) Belichick's been able to do, one of the hallmarks is they don't turn the ball over and they understand how to help a young quarterback. I see this quarterback doing a really good job of being smart with the football.
"I think he does a really good job of going through his progressions, and he takes what the defense gives him and doesn't try to force the ball into spots, and is willing to check the ball down some. They certainly have an alert system within their offense, where they can check some runs to the pass or a pass to the run based on the look that they're seeing. But you certainly see them making all the checks at the line of scrimmage that you would expect from a New England offense."
It helps that the Patriots have been able to run effectively in the first two games, with 226 yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries. New Orleans has allowed 132 rushing yards and a touchdown on 48 attempts in two games.
Mostly, for the Patriots, it's significant that Jones has been the player many thought he would be, including Saints Coach Sean Payton.
"He was someone that we were really high on," Payton said. "I think he processes information fast. At Alabama if you watch closely his tape, the ball comes out, decisions are made fast. I think he sees the field horizontally as well as vertically well. He has the arm to make the throws that you want.
"His decision-making and processing are what I felt were really strong suits with him and I think he's handling it well. It's not easy to all of a sudden come in and start week one as a rookie, but he's a smart player."
New Orleans faced two rookie quarterbacks last season, with varying degrees of success. The Saints beat Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers 30-27 in overtime, with Herbert passing for 264 yards and four touchdowns, and lost 24-21 to Jalen Hurts and Philadelphia, with Hurts passing for 167 yards and touchdown and running for 106 in his first game as a starter.
A third game, a 31-3 victory against Denver, featured a rookie quarterback in Kendall Hinton. But Hinton, a practice squad receiver who played quarterback in college, only started because Denver's other four quarterbacks couldn't play due to Covid-19 protocol.
As for Jones, Allen said the Patriots put him in positions to succeed.
"I think their coaching staff does a really good job of putting him in a position to where it makes it a lot more difficult to get after him and confuse him in certain situations," Allen said. "When you're able to run the ball as consistently as they've been able to run the football, and they stick with it, it helps the quarterback."
"He's a part of the Bill Belichick system," defensive end Cam Jordan said of Jones. "It's a methodical offense that has play-makers, but at the same time they don't live and die by a deep ball. They're going to be very even and try to identify our weaknesses and attack those.
"As a defense, it's more on us and what we do as it is every week, and trying to be better than the week before. I do think with having a couple players pop back up this week, we'll be even stronger against the run than we were last week, even though I think we had a good showing against the run last week if you go by numbers."