Some thoughts on this Monday:
The Gap Between the Patriots’ Offense and the Rest of the NFL Feels Like a Big One
1) Watching Sunday’s group of NFL contests yesterday was a frustrating reminder of the contrast between the New England Patriots and the rest of the league offensively, especially when it comes to the overall flow and the way they run their plays.
In fact, the gap honestly feels more like a chasm at this point.
The biggest takeaway from Sunday’s slate of match-ups was the fact it felt like the Patriots are well behind other NFL teams when it comes to both their inability to protect the quarterback, as well as the design and execution of their offense, especially in various situations.
Most games this year have felt like a grind on that side of the football, with Jones and company often seemingly banging their head against the wall for every yard. You don’t see many snaps where they’re coming up with perfectly called plays in certain situations. You’re not seeing many wide-open guys or players schemed to get behind the defense, at least very often.
The two touchdowns to Hunter Henry and Nelson Agholor on Thanksgiving in Minnesota are the two possible recent exceptions, but aside from that, it feels like every possession is just a challenge. They’re either stuck in a situation where they’re throwing the ball short and taking 10+ plays to get downfield only to run out of gas and settle for a field goal, or they’re going three-and-out. It definitely doesn’t feel like there’s much in between.
There’s been a lot of talk about the defense since Thursday night’s game, but people seem to forget the offense didn’t exactly do them any favors by giving them much rest. Four of New England’s first five possessions saw them run just three plays, and they had just three possessions all night where they ran more than six plays in a given series.
Buffalo was on the field for nearly 10 minutes in both the first and second quarters, and they were on the field for over 11 minutes in the third quarter. That saw the Bills finish with a time of possession edge of 38:08 to 21:52, which is staggering. No defense can survive being out there that long.
Yet, despite that, the Patriots trailed just 17-7 for a good portion of the game, with New England needing just one touchdown to potentially make it 17-14 and get them back into it. Still, that never felt like a possibility.
With New England spinning their wheels, the back-breaker came after they pinned Buffalo in at their own six-yard line and the Bills put together a nine-minute drive where they went 94-yards and scored the touchdown that finally put them up 24-7 and essentially sealed it.
But there was never any urgency in the offensive playcalling, which obviously led to Mac Jones’ outburst and Kendrick Bourne’s comments after this one was over. The ridiculous drive late in the game where they ran 17 plays just to get to Buffalo’s 21-yard and settle for a field goal was just brutal, and it was probably the best example of just how far things have fallen off.
Obviously, down in the red area has been another problem. On Sunday, various teams gave a glimpse of what things should look like. They rolled their quarterbacks out, ran play-action, ran “rub” routes, and did various other creative things to get guys open. That’s something we saw at times last year but definitely haven’t seen much of this season, and it’s why the Patriots came out of this weekend ranked at the bottom of the league in that category after falling further thanks to how things played out.
The San Francisco game was probably the best example. After Jimmy Garoppolo went down, the 49ers saw seventh-round pick Brock Purdy come in and under the guidance of Kyle Shanahan, completed 25-of-37 for 210-yards along with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Shanahan may not be the best head coach, but he is a smart offensive mind and seeing the way the 49ers operated compared to New England was just completely different.
Granted, they have guys like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle, but the overall operation was really what stood out. Even watching the Jets with offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur now that Zach Wilson is on the bench and Mike White is at quarterback was a massive difference, just in terms of the calls and the flow of the game.
It’s just hard to believe we’re in Week 13 – soon to be Week 14 – and this is where things are at. With five games left and so many concerns still yet to solve, time is definitely running out.
Patricia will remain in his role for the rest of the season. (PHOTO: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
Belichick: No Coordinator Changes at this Point of the Season:
2) Bill Belichick talked about their problems this morning during his Weekly appearance on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show and he pointed out that the biggest issue is the fact it’s not any one thing that has plagued them this year, it’s just been a combination of things that they just haven’t been able to get right.
He also said making any type of change at coordinator at this point isn’t likely, just due to where they’re at in the season.
“I think we need to do what we’re doing better. I don’t think, at this point, making a lot of dramatic changes, it’s too hard to do that,” said Belichick. “If we can just do consistently what we’re doing, I think we’ll be all right. But we just haven’t had enough consistency, and that’s hurt us. It’s not one thing. One time, it’s one thing, the next time, it’s something else. We just have to play and coach more consistently.”
Belichick also mentioned that their issues with the offensive plays have been complicated and that it’s not just one area that has been the problem.
“It hasn’t always been the same problem or hasn’t been the same problem on certain plays,” said Belichick. “Sometimes that’s shifted, and there’s certainly been some plays that haven’t matched up well against the defense when they were called. Whether that’s the design of the play or the way it hit against a certain defense, those have come up as well.”
That obviously tells you he’s aware of all of it and he’s clearly frustrated, but the only thing they can do at this point is to try and at least execute the things they are able to do better. That’s not ideal, but that’s unfortunately the reality of where things are.
Belichick Accepts Responsibility for Team’s Record:
3) He was also asked this morning about his comments from back in September to the Boston Globe about whether or not his decision to put Matt Patricia and Joe Judge in charge of the offense would have a negative impact. Belichick said at the time if it didn’t pan out, he’d take the blame.
He didn’t shy away from that on Monday.
“Well, I’m responsible for our team’s performance,” said Belichick. “So, I accept that.”
There was little hesitation in the response, and he’s aware that with the way things have gone, their 6-6 record isn’t good enough. But the bigger issue isn’t the record, it’s the direction the team appears to be heading in.
With a trip out to Arizona up next, followed by a match-up against a Raiders team that’s starting to figure things out under new head coach, Josh McDaniels, the road certainly isn’t an easy one. Belichick said they’ll be away from Gillette Stadium for eight days, pointing out that they’ll try and operate in a similar fashion to previous road trips. But these next two games are crucial because they’ll then come home to play a surging Bengals team that beat Kansas City Sunday, followed by a rematch against Miami and a trip to Buffalo for the finale.
Until they figure out a way to start executing on offense and scoring points, the outlook surrounding the rest of their season is murky at best. We’ve seen some crazy turnarounds in the past but this one may definitely be his biggest challenge yet.
Last year, Jones played with more confidence than this season. (PHOTO:Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Film of Jones Just Makes This Season More Frustrating:
4) Some of the discussion still remains around Mac Jones and whether or not he’s the guy at quarterback, but one thing that stood out was a thread on our forum with clips from some of his plays from his rookie season. One of the biggest things Jones spent time this offseason working on was his nutrition along with his mechanics and footwork, all of which the plan was to try and grow and improve as a player while building on everything he learned in his rookie season.
Yet, he hasn’t been able to build on anything. Instead, he’s been under constant duress running an offense that no longer allows him to just read and react. When you look at how he played last season under Josh McDaniels, everything clearly made sense.
Plays were called in certain situations, and Jones stepped up and made the throws. At times, the offense was prolific, including the stretch where they won seven straight. Granted, some criticize the quality of opponents, but at the end of the day, good teams are supposed to beat up on bad teams, and you can only play the teams on the schedule. And those games often aren’t just about the final score. They’re also about improving to later compete against quality opponents.
McDaniels also, more often than not, put Jones in a position to succeed, and the rookie frequently answered the call. Say what you want about their 10 wins, or their struggles down the stretch in 2021, but you can’t really discount it because it’s tough to win in the NFL as it is, let alone as a first-year player.
The point is, last year things weren’t a grind. Everything kept moving, and there were opportunities that Jones was able to take advantage of. Plenty of players have said it previously, it’s a lot easier to play when you can just read and react. That doesn’t seem to be the case this season, and it was evident looking both back at last year and around the league this past weekend.
Curran: Narrative on Coordinator Situation is ‘Straight Fact:
5) NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran appeared on the Rich Eisen show this past Friday and talked about the Patriots’ issues, giving his take on where things are with the state of the team.
And the picture he painted wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“Frustration has yielded to exasperation,” said Curran. “Bill Belichick, throughout the offseason, preached patience, which I think in some ways, in an un-Patriotic fashion, translated to a lack of urgency. We’re going to put something new in, it’s going to take some time, need you to be patient, might be 5 or 6 weeks, you never know, or maybe it’ll be Thanksgiving, yet the players have a season here going on and they have 21 touchdowns as an offense.”
“Mac Jones is in his second year, and the offense has regressed so drastically, and they’ve handcuffed him from taking any risks at all so profoundly that it’s maddening, and I think we heard that in the locker room last night.”
Eisen then asked Curran about the narrative about whether or not Belichick has let Jones down due to making Patricia the offensive coordinator and whether or not that assessment was fair. Curran believes that’s unfortunately not a narrative, it’s a frustrating reality.
“It’s beyond fair, it’s accurate and it’s not a narrative, it’s straight fact.” said Curran. “I mean, you can’t go from one of the best offensive coordinators the league has seen this century, to a guy who hasn’t done it, no matter his acumen as a coach overall, and then ask him to implement a new offense after saying goodbye to their most competent offensive linemen, Shaq Mason, change the language, and do all that while you’re coaching an offensive line that has tackles at either side that are sometimes hurt or inconsistent. Plus, start a rookie at left guard.”
“It’s not Matt Patricia’s fault that he didn’t say, ‘no, I don’t think I’m up to this.’ It’s Bill’s fault to think that it was going to work. And when the media spent the entire offseason, and fans did too, wondering why this was a good idea, Bill said, ‘Blame me.’ So that’s really where it lands. And you’re taking a step back in the second year of a rookie contract, which is the most valuable thing you can have in the NFL with a good quarterback.”
The fact Belichick at least acknowledged where things were at was a start and should things go south, the fact he even touched on a potential change at some point is a step in the right direction. However, as Curran points out, the fact they’ve squandered a year of development with Jones is frustrating, albeit they got to see enough from Bailey Zappe where they should at least feel good about their depth overall at quarterback.
For now, all they can do is focus on this week and Belichick did say on Monday that after speaking to the players and coaches, everyone seems ready to move on to the next challenge.
“I think we’d all certainly like to be doing better than what we’re doing. From a record standpoint, from individual execution,” said Belichick. “But we’re going to look ahead, not backwards, and look towards the next opportunity here against Arizona and get back on track this week.”
“I think that all the people I’ve talked to, players, coaches, I think we all feel the same way about that. We can’t control what’s already happened, but we control what’s in front of us.”
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary