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MORSE: Patriots Season Preview and Morse’s Morsels

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
4 weeks ago at 11:59 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

MORSE: Patriots Season Preview and Morse’s MorselsDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

2022 Patriots Season Preview

Training Camp is done and we are getting ready to kick off the regular season on Sunday, September 11th at 1:00 in Miami against the Dolphins.  Look for my preview of the game on Thursday.   Sad to report, I am predicting a 6-11 season.  I hope I am wrong. These are my reasons the Patriots will have a rebuilding year this season.

  • The inexperienced offensive coaching staff
  • Instituting a new Offensive system on a 2nd year QB
  • New blocking scheme for the Offensive line
  • Poor Drafts
  • A Defense that hasn’t proven they can stop anyone yet
  • Brutal Schedule

This from Doug Kyed from Pro Football Focus:

PATRIOTS’ OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES

The Patriots’ offense struggled against its defense when the pads came on in training camp and never looked significantly better in joint practices and preseason games with the Carolina Panthers and Las Vegas Raiders.

One AFC scout is buying the Patriots’ issues on offense after studying them this summer and believes the struggles are real.

“They are not good,” he said.

New England has plenty of talent on offense, carrying over four members of last year’s offensive line in Trent Brown, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, and Isaiah Wynn plus 2022 first-round pick Cole Strange, two high-priced tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, four starting-caliber wide receivers in Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and Mac Jones, who looked like the best quarterback of his rookie class last season.

But offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become the Raiders’ head coach this offseason, and he brought three assistants with him from New England offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi, quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree, and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo.

The Patriots filled in the gaps by moving former defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia from senior football advisor to offensive line coach/preseason play caller and hiring former special teams coordinator and New York Giants head coach Joe Judge as quarterbacks coach.

There are a couple of theories why the Patriots have not named an Offensive Coordinator.  One is if they name them a coordinator, they don’t have to pay them.  Both coaches are still being paid under their head coaching contracts with the Lions and Giants.   The second and weaker argument is that they don’t have to give media interviews because they are not the coordinator.

It’s been a work in progress so far, as the attempt to simplify the offense and play to its talents’ strengths didn’t catch on over the summer. Internally, the Patriots still believe the unit will jell during the regular season when games count.”

Inexperienced Coaching Staff

You don’t lose 4 Offensive coaches and expect there wouldn’t be an impact.  Matt Patricia is spread too thin.  He has responsibilities to perform those analysis duties Ernie Adams use to do.  His title is Offensive Line coach, but he is spending all his time with Mac Jones and the offense.  In the Carolina Pre-season game Assistant O-line coach, Billy Yates was up in the box, and Patricia was on the sideline working with Mac Jones.  There was no one with the O-line who was struggling mightily with the new zone blocking scheme.  David Andrews as the Captain was trying to hold down the fort.  Billy Yates doesn’t have the respect of the players, even though he himself is a former player.  He has only been coaching for 5 years (not the 13 the Patriots list on their website).  Yates played on the line for parts of 8 years in the NFL.

The Patriots have no one on their staff that can teach the Ron Earhardt / Ray Perkins offensive system.  Josh McDaniels learned the system under Charlie Weiss who was one of the Giants Assistants that Belichick brought with him from the Jets when he became the New England head coach (Ivan Fears was the other).  Lombardi, Hardegree, and Bracillo leave, creating a huge void that hasn’t been filled.  Add to that the retirement of Fears and Dante Scarnecchia.

Instituting a New Offensive System

I didn’t anticipate the Offense would have this much trouble assimilating the new offense.  My original thought was that Mac Jones would have to take on more responsibility for the offensive burden and win games in a shootout.  Not having anyone that could teach the Earhardt /Perkins system, Belichick chose to move towards a system like Mike Shanahan’s Zone Blocking scheme.  This was not done to suit the player personnel Belichick had on the team but to accommodate the lack of offensive coaching experience by Joe Judge and Matt Patricia.

They are also dumbing down the complicated naming conventions and playbook.  Why wasn’t that done the year before when you had a rookie QB?  Mac Jones had a terrific rookie campaign and had done a masterful job learning the playbook.  Why not bring in someone that knew that system and could teach it?  There might be only one offensive coach that could teach that and he has committed to coach the offense at Alabama, Bill O’Brien.

Is time passing Bill Belichick by?  His offensive system was so old there are no coaches familiar with it to teach it!

Offensive Line learning the Blocking Scheme

I expect a regression of Mac Jones in year two.  The Offensive Line is trying to learn the Zone blocking scheme and failing miserably.  The Patriots have not been able to run using the Zone blocking.  During the joint practices, Pre-season games, and practices against their own Defense, the Patriots were constantly being stuffed when trying Zone blocking.  They fared much better when they went back to Gap blocking. 

However, the Patriots made a decision early on in the off-season and let FB Jakob Johnson go because they were changing offensive philosophy.  The Patriots want to be a run-first team, taking the pressure off the young QB.  They are just the opposite now.  They can’t run, putting all the pressure on Jones to complete third and long plays.  For salary cap reasons they traded their starting RG Shaq Mason, who would have been excellent in this zone blocking scheme.  They cheaped out and didn’t re-sign LG Ted Karras, a player they had developed into a capable if unspectacular starting O-lineman.  The difference was a million dollars.  The year before they spent money against the salary cap like drunken sailors.  Now they were in Salary Cap jail because of it. 

Then they panicked and in the 1st round of the draft, they reached for an O-lineman (Cole Strange) they could have had in the third round.   They switched tackles, Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn.  Wynn was a no-show all off-season when they were installing this new scheme.  Then when it came time for Training Camp, Wynn gets hurt as has been the case every pre-season.  There were persistent rumors the Patriots were entertaining offers for Wynn in order to get his $10.5M salary off their books.  Wynn is still hurt and is questionable for Sunday.  I would much rather see Michael Owenu at RT.  However, that would open up a hole at RG.  The backup is currently rookie draft choice Chase Hines.  It was a huge surprise that Hines made the final 53-man roster.  They could always promote James Ferentz to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad.  Ferentz started the Pre-season game at RG against the Raiders.  When they added Tyquan Thornton to the short-term IR, they created an open roster spot.

Poor Drafts

Bill Belichick has been rightfully criticized for his poor drafting ability.  The 2018 Draft has only Isaiah Wynn and Ja’Whaun Bentley left from it.  2019 has Damien Harris, Yodny Cajuste (backup) and former Pro Bowl Punter Jake Bailey left.  This year they cut both 3rd round TEs Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.  Asiasi got picked up on waivers by Cincinnati.

By selecting Ronnie Perkins in the third round of the 2021 draft, they passed on Quinn Meinerz.  If they had selected Meinerz he could play either Guard position and back up at Center.  Meinerz is starting for Denver at LG.  Perkins, drafted knowing he was hurt, was on IR all last season and is back on season-ending IR again this year.   He was unimpressive all training camp.

The Patriots kept 10 rookies on their 53-man roster this year.  Eight were draft choices and two were Undrafted Free Agents.  Those UDFAs kept the Patriots streak alive at 20 years of a UDFA making the opening day 53-man roster.

The Patriots had a 32% turnover of the Roster this year.  They usually have a 30% turnover.  Despite the 10 rookies, they still have the 2nd oldest roster in the league.

In the playoff games versus Buffalo, 17 players that were on the roster for that game are gone from the team this year.  Jon Jones was on IR and this year is the starting boundary corner opposite Jalen Mills.  I have concerns about their secondary’s ability to cover.  If the front seven can’t put pressure on the QBs then the secondary will not be able to cover the WRs.  I will be watching Buffalo’s starting Cornerback Kaiir Elam all year.  That is the player I wanted the Patriots to take instead of Strange.  If they take Meinerz the year before they don’t have the pressing need to take a Left Guard.

Unproven Defense

The defense was shredded in the last quarter of the schedule last year.  In the two Buffalo games not played in a monsoon, the Patriots’ Defense could not get off the field.  Buffalo didn’t punt once in those final encounters with the Bills.  The secondary couldn’t cover, the D-Line couldn’t stop the run and the linebackers were old and slow.  The Defense has been the bright spot this training camp.  They dominated in the practices and the question was is it the Defense has improved or the Offense is that bad. 

The Joint practices proved that it was a little of both.  Big changes on Defense.  Jon Jones has become a boundary corner moving over from the slot.  Rookie Marcus Jones and Myles Bryant have taken on the slot duties and have looked pretty good.  Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson have shown speed at ILBs.  Wilson was acquired from Cleveland for the disappointing Chase Winowich.   Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings have looked solid on the edge.  Looking forward to Christian Barmore’s 2nd year. 

Davon Godchaux signed an extension which shows how much the Patriots value his contribution.  How much have they improved?  How much time will Bill Belichick be allowed to spend on the Defense?  That puts more pressure on Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo to run the Defense.  The Patriots have not named a Defensive coordinator.  Is that because Belichick doesn’t want to be accused of nepotism by naming his son?

Patriots Schedule

This is what I wrote when the schedule was first announced.  The schedule is out and it is brutal.   The Patriots have 5 Prime Time night games, probably the result of being a playoff team last year.  Thanksgiving Eve against the Vikings highlights the schedule.   The Patriots made the playoffs and finished 2nd in the division so they will play the top two teams against the other divisions. Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Patriots at 8.5 wins.

The Strength of Schedule is right in the middle of the league (16).   That was determined before the schedule came out based on the winning percentage of their opponents from the previous season.  Warren Sharp of NBC Sports Edge https://www.nbcsportsedge.com/article/offseason-research/who-was-hurt-most-nfl-schedule-release has an excellent and extensive article about who got hurt the most by the schedule.  Sharp looks at the days of rest each team gets.  The Patriots have a -13 Days rest, 2nd worst in the league.  This translates into about a month’s less rest time than the remainder of the league.  The Dolphins on the other hand have one of the most favorable schedules with a +5 Net Rest.  The Bills have a +12 Net Rest (like they need it).  Another area that hurt the Patriots is that they got no advantage other than rest after their Bye week because their next opponent (NY Jets) also has the same Bye Week.

Bottom Line

I have the Patriots losing the first 4 games of the season.  It may take until the 7th or 8th games for the Offense to get straight.  Can the defense hold up and keep the Patriots in the game?  The Patriots don’t have the benefit of the second-tier schedule against creampuffs and flat-out bad teams like they had last season.  The only significant victory they had was against Indianapolis.  They weren’t as good as their record indicated.  Because they made the playoffs they will be playing 1st and 2nd teams in their opponents’ divisions.  These are playoff teams for the most part.

Morse’s Morsels

Paul Hornug Award Winners

Love the addition of WR/RB/QB/PR Lynn Bowden to the Practice Squad.  He was a player I had pegged for the Patriots in last year’s draft.  The versatile Bowden can do it all.  He won the Paul Hornug award as the most versatile player in college football for the 2019 season.  He joins two other Patriots players Marcus Jones (2021) and Jabrill Peppers (2019) as winners of the same award.

Why was Billy O’Brien Not Hired?

It appears that O’Brien was not offered the position of Offensive coordinator because Bill Belichick feared that O’Brien would jump at the next opportunity to become a Head Coach again.


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Posted Under: Patriots News

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    4 Comments
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    rochrist
    rochrist
    29 days ago

    Analysis worthy of Felger or Bedard.

    Michael P. McGrath
    Michael P. McGrath
    29 days ago

    I don’t agree with many of the details to support your conclusion – much of it spilled milk. I do agree this does not appear to be a good football team or have the potential to be a good or elite team. Too many issues to work through. I see them as slightly below or above 500. A middle ground between you and Ian. I believe they will improve as the season develops and will be in much better position to truly compete next year. Peter King has them going 7 an d 10. I respect King, one of the… Read more »

    Mark Morse
    Mark Morse
    Reply to  Michael P. McGrath
    28 days ago

    Michael, I agree the team will improve on both sides of the ball as the season progresses. However, their schedule is tough, and that is a fact. I would love to see the Patriots abandon the zone blocking experiment, have Belichick make the offensive play calls, and give Mac Jones the opportunity to make the play call or audible at the Line of Scrimmage.

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