FOXBOROUGH – Lots of horror stories were emanating from training camp at Fort Foxborough. Subject: the new offense in the post-Josh McDaniels era.
No coaching titles. A former defensive coordinator and a former special teams coach are now basically running the offense. We think. Bill Belichick has his fingerprints all over this offense, and he also doesn’t have a defensive coordinator.
Worse, Belichick isn’t saying who is running what. It’s a bunch of guys with no titles. Maybe this is the greatest thing since Belichick’s defensive game plan in Super Bowl XXV.
Whatever the case, the Patriots opened their preseason game with the team they usually finish with, the New York Giants. The Giants played their varsity offense throughout most of the first quarter, and the Patriots ended the quarter ahead, 7-3. In the end, when the scrubs/wannabees battled, the Giants walked off with a 23-21 victory at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. The wins and losses mean very little, especially this early in the preseason, but if you like the Patriots, the game showed you a little something, and mass confusion wasn’t exactly what you saw.
Face it, a lot of training camp reports weren’t exactly flattering to the Patriot offense. McDaniels, who is now the head man out in Las Vegas, left a sizeable coaching void, and Belichick made some weird replacements which on the surface didn’t make sense.
Matt Patricia returns to Foxborough after six years as defensive coordinator, after a mostly adverse head coaching stint in the football purgatory known as Detroit. The Lions have gone the longest without a playoff victory among all NFL teams, but they have been abysmal over the last several years. Patricia didn’t go 0-16, but he never enamored himself with his players and his fans, and he was let go after only three seasons.
Joe Judge comes back to the Patriots after having been on the other sideline the last two seasons as Giants head coach. Judge ran special teams in New England for five seasons before getting his shot as a head coach. Now he is back with the Patriots, but like Patricia, not in his old job.
McDaniels, Patricia and Judge all crashed and burned in their first NFL head coaching gigs. All three now have come back to the Patriots. Only McDaniels came back to his previous job as offensive coordinator. Patricia and Judge have been tasked with working on the offensive side of the ball. Neither has been tabbed as a “coordinator”. Combine all this with the adverse reports coming out of training camp (“I will eventually figure all this out!” – Mac Jones) and it does give you the Patriot fan pause to envision postseason glory at season’s end.
Thursday night’s game showed no such confusion or mismanagement as was feared or assumed based on training camp. The loss to the Giants was actually a well managed game, with players making plays, players not making plays, and the Giants won because they had the ball last. But the loss element is not important. The fact that the game was competitive all game long and the Patriots never embarrassed themselves was encouraging.
Penalties will be something that Belichick will have to deal with. The Patriots were penalized 12 times for 89 yards, including a questionable roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Nate Wieland on the final fourth quarter drive for the Giants. But the Patriots must address this area, even though it is early in the process and forgivable at this stage of the season.
Here are some anecdotal observations from Thursday night’s preseason opener:
Jones did not play at all. Brian Hoyer played the entire first quarter and played well. He was five of eight passing for 59 yards and a touchdown. A drop on third down by Tre Nixon killed off the first offensive possession, a play Nixon has to make in order to make this team. More on Nixon later.
Bailey Zappe, the fourth round draft pick by the Patriots out of Western Kentucky, was the nation’s leading passer in 2021. He came in to start the second quarter and played the rest of the way. He had a miserable second quarter, hitting on only 3 of 9 passes for 17 yards.
But something interesting happened after halftime. During the first half, Patricia called the plays on offense. Judge took over calling the plays after halftime and Zappe’s play improved markedly. To open the third quarter, Zappe hit Nixon for 36 yards. Later in the drive, he found Nixon for 32 yards to the Giants’ 8-yard line. Two plays later, Kevin Harris ran it in for three yards and the Patriots claimed a 14-10 lead.
Judge was able to dial up plays where Zappe was able to execute, and his throws were more confident and accurate. Zappe does not throw a tight spiral, reminding some old folks of former Patriot quarterback Joe Kapp. Kapp played for the Vikings and lost Super Bowl IV to the Chiefs throwing a wobbly but accurate pass by gripping the ball in the middle. He came to Boston the following season for a brief and forgettable stay as a Patriot. Zappe throws passes which don’t look pretty but did find their mark.
Tyquan Thornton was another rookie under the microscope. He played mostly in the first quarter, and caught both passes that were thrown to him (a third was thrown to him but New York was called for a penalty). On the final play of the first quarter, Thornton ran a crossing left pattern in the end zone and caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Hoyer despite being held on the play by Aaron Robinson (who was called for taunting two plays prior to extend the drive). Thornton looks like he needs to show that he can fight for possession, but the route he ran for the touchdown was well done, he did get enough separation, and it’s a good thing anytime you make a catch while being held.
The Patriot defense, while not being able to prevent the game winning 25-yard field goal by Graham Gano as time expired, can take some measure of satisfaction in that the second (mostly) unit held the Giants’ first string offense to only three points in the first quarter. Saquon Barkley had only 13 yards on four carries, while Daniel Jones completed six of ten passes for 69 yards and an 80.8 passer rating. Chad Uche had a sack of Jones to kill off the second offensive possession. Malcolm Butler, the former Super Bowl hero returning to his original team, played most of the first quarter and played well but not outstanding.
The Patriots will play Carolina next Friday night here at Gillette. Look for Mac Jones (this game may have set a record for the most number of players named Jones) to get more playing time, but not an awful lot. Jones will continue to figure all this out as he stated earlier this week, but he really does need some real game reps just to make sure his rapport with center David Andrews is still good.
First game done. Mission accomplished. No serious injuries. The team is not as disorganized as you thought. And of course, lots of work to do.
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Tags: Patriots vs Giants