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MORSE: 2023 New England Patriots Season Preview

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
September 6, 2023 at 10:04 am ET

MORSE: 2023 New England Patriots Season Preview(PHOTO: New England linebackers Matthew Judon and Ja'Whaun Bentley roar as they celebrate one of many quarterback sacks, this one in the first half. The New England Patriots hosts the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on Nov 6, 2020. [The Providence Journal / Kris Craig])
Posted: Sep 06, 2023 10:04
🕑 Read Time: 12 minutes

Patriots Offense

The team has completed the OTAs, Mini-Camp, and Pre-Season, and we still don’t know what the team has because of injuries to the Offensive line.  I am confident that the proven Bill O’Brien system will work again in the NFL. 

That is not the problem, it is the inconsistency of the Offensive line.  The Patriots made two trades prior to the cutdown for young, unproven Offensive Tackles.  There is a lot to like about the potential of Vederian Lowe and Tyrone Wheatley Jr.  Both are tall, big-bodied Tackles with long arms.  Are either of them ready to start against the vaunted Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Ends?  Probably not! 

An Offensive line of Trent Brown LT, Cole Strange LG, David Andrews C, Michael Owenu RG, and Calvin Anderson RT is potentially a very good group.  Anderson has experience at both tackle spots and that will allow the Pats to keep Owenu at RG.  Reilly Rieff is on IR and can be recalled in 4 weeks.  His and Connor McDermott’s injuriesy required the Patriots to make the trades.  They could go into the season with two rookies who were not ready to play in the NFL yet.

The toughest job on the Patriots coaching staff goes to new O-line coach Adrian Klemm and his assistant Billy Yates.  They have 11 O-lineman on the 53-man roster and another 2 on the Practice squad.  Eight of those players are either rookies or 2nd year players.  That’s 5 Veterans and Reilly Reiff is hurt.  Klemm come back to the Patriots as an accomplished coach having recently coached the Oregon Ducks O-line into one of the better units in all of College Football. 

There is a lot of pressure on Klemm to produce and the team is dependent upon the line performance.  Klemm is a welcomed departure from the awful job Matt Patricia did as the Offensive Coordinator.  He was also the O-line coach but never spent time with them, relegating that job to 1st year coach Billy Yates.   Yates did his best but was just so inexperienced to handle the hot mess he was handed.

Let’s take a look at the Quarterback room.  Mac Jones is very comfortable with Bill O’Brien’s offense.   How comfortable will he be behind the Offensive Line that has practiced together for a week with no physical contact?  If he is given the time in the pocket, Jones can be a very effective game manager.  He had a high completion percentage as a rookie (67.6), which was second all-time to Dake Prescott’s (67.8).  Despite the chaos surrounding the offense last year, Jones still had a good completion percentage (65.2). 

Jones will also have a better receiving corps that will be utilized better by O’Brien.  Backup Matt Corral had an excellent career at Mississippi (another SEC QB).  He missed his entire rookie season in Carolins with a Lisfranc injury.  Carolina tried to sneak him through waivers and got caught.  Ironically, Corral was selected by Carolina with a draft pick acquired from the Patriots so they could select him in the 3rd round.  The 4th round pick exchanged ended up being Bailey Zappe, and the 3rd this year was Marte Mapu.  Now we have both QBs.  I suspect that Zappe will be a call up on Sunday to serve as the backup QB, with Corral being on the team a little over a week. 

Another interesting point is that Mac Jones was recruited to play at Alabama by Lane Kiffin who was the Offensive Coordinator/ QB Coach at Alabama at the time.  Corral played for Kiffin at Mississippi for Kiffin.  Both programs run heavy amounts of Run/Pass Options (RPOs).  Both QBs are familiar with this type of offense and performed very well in this environment.  Bailey Zappe was not familiar with it and struggled to run it at the Pro level.  Zappe was completely blindsided by his release.  At best, he will be a career backup.  However, I would not be surprised if Zappe took the 1st offer from an NFL team to jump ship.   I like Cunningham on the Practice Squad as the scout team QB replicating the movements of all the mobile QBs the team  will face this year.

An interesting tidbit is that Matt Corral was the only offensive skill position player claimed out of all players claimed.  No other Wide Receivers, Runningbacks or Quarterbacks were claimed off waivers.

Note: The NFL clarified the 3rd QB/ Emergency QB rule.  All three QBs must be part of the 53-man roster in order to qualify for the emergency QB.  I think the league saw what Belichick was planning and put the kibosh on it.  Zappe and Malik Cunningham can continue to develop on the Practice Squad.


PHOTO: Chris Pedota, NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Wide Receiver room scares me.  In my opinion Kendrick Bourne is their best option at wideout.  JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker have problems separating from DBs.  Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated MMQB is reporting that Snith-Schuster knee must be managed carefully and his knee could go at anytime.  Tyquan Thornton is hurt again and was put on IR.  He has bust written all over him. 

Next up are two 6th round rookies.  Pop Douglas has impressed every day of workouts and camp.  I am anxiously awaiting to see what he can do against top competition.  Keyshon Boutte started slow but caught fire the last three weeks of training camp.   He is a big question mark.  He has tremendous potential. If he can play like he did as a Freshman at LSU, where he was projected to be a 1st round selection, the Patriots may have found a diamond in the rough. 

The Patriots have also been busy signing players jettisoned by other teams.  They picked up Jalen Reagor, a former 1st round (#21) by the Eagles.  There is a reson that Reagor is available.  He runs lazy routes and was the reason that Kirk Cousins threw 2 INTs in a game last season. 

Later, they also added TJ Luther, a UDFA that was in the Jets camp.  Luther has been on the Patriots radar for a long time.  They actually brought him in to Foxborough as one of 30 sanctioned in-house visit prior to the draft.

The Runningback room is thin.  Rhamondre Stevenson backed up by Ezekiel Elliott is strong.  The Patriots signed Kevin Harris and Ty Montgomery to the Practice Squad.  Look for one of them to be a game day elevation from the Practice Squad.  JJ Taylor was also waived but wants a fresh start with another organization.  He has not signed with any other teams Practice Squad yet.  Having just 2 RBs is the result of overloading the Oline.  Carrying 11 OL (now 10 with the Reilly Reiff IR) was due to rehabbing players not being ready and other injuries.

Mike Gesicki is primed for a big year in the Bill O’Brien Offense.  Hunter Henry was a very reliable receiver last year.  O’Brien is known for his use of 12 formation with two TEs.  Gesicki is not an inline blocker.  He is more like Jakobi Meyers, operating out of the slot as a big receiver with speed.  The team  added Pharaoh Brown, who has played for Bill O’Brien at Houston.   Originally signed to the Practice Squad, Brown has been elevated to the 53-man roster in the spot vacated by Reilly Rieff going on IR (recall).  Rieff is out a minimum of 4 games.

Matt Judon(PHOTO: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Patriots Defense

The defense will be called upon to hold the fort until the offense can get up to speed.  In typical Belichick style, they will need to keep the Pats in the game so that the offense can get an opportunity to steal a win.  Belichick invested heavily on Defense with the 1st three draft picks being on the Defensive side.

The cornerbacks will be young and inexperienced.  Number one pick Christian Gonzalez was a steal at pick #17.  Gonzalez is one of the youngest players in the NFL this season.  He will get picked upon by opposing QBs. Expect that Gonzalez will struggle considering the caliber of QBs and teams that are on the Patriots schedule.  More on the schedule later.  Jack Jones had his pending court case looming over his head, which is now no longer an issue after the news came out on Tuesday that prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against him.  Prior to that, I believe that is the reason Jack Jones played so much in the final Pre-Season game. 

The Patriots expect that Jones will at the very least be suspended for a certain number of games by the league.  Veteran Jon Jones will man the Right Cornerback position.  I would rather see him at Free Safety.   Slot Corner will be a combination of Myles Bryant and Marcus Jones.  Both players are on the short side (5’9” and 5’8” respectively) but Bryant is also slow having run just a 4.62 40 at the NFL Combine is 2020.  Most of the slot receivers are on the smaller size. 

I am scared to death by Jalen Mills at Free Safety.  He is just not fast enough to make up for mistakes in coverage.  The Strong Safety group is the best unit in the NFL.  They are all interchangeable and can sub at LB as well.  With the advent of more wide-open offenses, three wide receiver sets, having the flexibility these Safeties provide is essential.  This could be one of the best secondaries in the league.

I was surprised by some of the moves along the D-Line.  Second Round pick Keion White is a beast.  He is going to give opposing QBs nightmares.  I felt that Lawrence Guy was going to be cut because of his age.  He was also looking for a boost in salary and didn’t attend any non-mandatory practices.  Once the bell rang for the start of Training Camp he was there and accounted for. 

I am looking for a big year from Christian Barmore in his third season.  He disappointed last season due to injuries.  Daniel Ekuale outplayed Carl Davis.  This leaves the Patriots a little light in the middle after Davon Godcahux.  Detrich Wise is back and played very well last season.  The team also signed Tre Flowers but he remains on PUP.  The surprise on the 53-man roster was Sam Roberts.  He played very well in the final Pre-Season game which probably secured his spot.  It’s unusual that a player that played so much in the final Pre-Season game actually makes the roster. 

Can this group stop the run?  Stopping the run is critical to the success of the defense.  The Patriots signed Jeremiah Pharms to the Practice Squad yesterday.  He was ready to sign last Wednesday but was called away with a family emergency.

Edge/Linebacker may be the strongest group on the team.  Matt Judon and Josh Uche are solid on the edges.  Now add in Keion White who can play either as a down lineman or standing as an edge player.  Anfernee Jennings had a great camp and really showed up on the game days in the Pre-season.  That’s a lot of depth on the outside.  The Patriots were fortunate to get Ronnie Perkins through waivers and he sits on the Practice Squad if needed. 

Inside LB is manned by Ja’Whaun Bentley, a team Captain and leader of the Defense.  Jahlani Tavai has played very well since being acquired from Detroit.   Third round selection Marte Mapu is listed as a LB.  He played Safety at Sacramento State and the average fan had never heard of him before the draft.  Only a handful of draftniks and scouts did, and luckily the Patriots scouts were one of those.  Mapu is 6’3”, 230 lbs. and runs a 4.67 40.  He is the new breed of fast and underweight mobile Linebackers.  Just the opposite of Bentley who is a slow, downhill thumper. 

Mack Wilson made the final cut and he along with Chris Board will contribute mainly on Special Teams.

Special teams should be improved.  Joe Judge has returned to coaching the Special Teams unit.  Cam Achord is listed as the Special Teams coach but its Judge who is in charge.  I am happy that he is back doing what he does best and replaces Achord, who I felt should have been let go.  He will have two rookies specialist in Kicker Chad Ryland and Punter Bryce Baringer.  Baringer’s punts have had excellent hang time as well as distance, and he can really flip the field position if the Patriots are pinned in their own zone. 

Ryland, whom the Patriots invested their highest draft pick ever on a kicker (4th Rd # 112), traded up with the New York Jets to grab Ryland.  The Patriots traded long time kicker, Mr. Consistency, Nick Folk to the Tennessee Titans.  Out of respect for Folk, he was involved in the talks with Tennessee.  Bill Belichick may have gotten more compensation from another team, but he let Folk talk with Tennessee before the trade was made. 

The inspirational leader of the team, Matthew Slater returns for his 16th season in the league.  At age 37 he is the oldest Patriots player.  He is still a player the opposition has to game plan to stop.  Brennen Schooler has emerged as another feared Special Teams player.  Look for him to start to get league accolades for the outstanding job he does.  Watch him when he goes down on coverage. 

Ameer Speed made the team for his Special Teams potential, especially after Isaiah Bolden’s concussion knocked him out for the year.  Note: The Patriots are ranked 27th, as one of the oldest teams in the league despite their 10 rookies on the team.  They have another UDFA rookie on the Practice Squad and one rookie on season-ending IR.


PHOTO: Greg M. Cooper – USA TODAY Sports

Coaching  

Bill Belichick wants the record for most career wins.  He is 19 short of the record and can’t get it this year, but he can put a dent in that number.  Belichick the coach is brilliant, simply the best. 

Belichick the GM leaves a lot to be desired.  His evaluation of college talent has been off.  His 2019 draft class is completely gone.  N’Keal Harry and Joejuan Williams were complete whiffs and Chade Winovich flamed out.  None are playing on a 53-man roster.  Damien Harris is in Buffalo and is primed to help that team as a backup/short yardage specialist. 

The team gave up on Hjalte Froholdt and he is now the starting Center at Arizona.  QB Jarrett Stidham is the backup to Russell Wilson in Denver.  Even his spending habits as GM can be questioned.  His choice to sign two big dollar TEs in the same year was a horrible mistake.  He is penny wise and pound foolish.   He nickels and dimes players like Joe Thuney, who was the poster child for the way to build an Offensive Line, yet he doesn’t get a sniff from the Patriots.  He let Ted Karras walk over a mere million dollars.  Even with the loss of Thuney and the give-away of Shaq Mason for Salary Cap reasons, if they had signed Karras, they wouldn’t have to use a 1st round pick on Cole Strange.

I didn’t like the fact that Belichick used three high draft picks on Defensive players when the obvious need for the team was at Offensive Tackle.  Nothing against the three players taken.  I like all three of them, but he put the team in such a bind that he had to try and convert a college draft pick that played guard into a tackle.  Then he trades for a tackle who has only played tackle the last few years and has just a NFL Pre-Season under his belt.  The worst part of it was the Patriots had Wheatley in for a visit last season and could have signed him for nothing rather than trade their 2022 4th round pick Pierre Strong  for him.  Another whiff in the drafting department.

On the positive side, Belichick, under pressure from Bob Kraft, did away with the Matt Patricia experiment.  Patricia nearly ruined Mac Jones.  The hiring of Bill O’Brien is a brilliant and necessary move.  Jerod Mayo turned down offers to interview with other teams for head coaching jobs.  The consensus is that Mayo has a promise to take over the team once Belichick retires, which prompted him to turn down the offers.  His sone Steven Belichick is now 36 and is the de facto Defensive coordinator.  He shares coaching the Linebackers with Jerod mayo and both collaborate to come up with the Defensive Gameplan.  On gameday it’s Steve Belichick calling the plays.  Their defense was very good against bad teams last year and mediocre against good QBs.

New roles are in store for Evan Rothstein as the assistant QB coach.  He is the real one-on-one guy for the QBs as Bill O’Brien concentrates more on the total offense.  Rothstein has moved from a Research/Analysis role to the Assistant QB coach.  Will Lawing came with Bill O’Brien and will be the TE coach replacing Nick Caley who joined the LA Rams. 

Vinnie Sunseri was elevated to Running Backs coach from the assistant position he held.  Long time Running Backs coach Ivan Fears retired.  Well let’s just say he is not on the payroll anymore.  Fears was a constant in the building during the off season and during training camp.   An interesting fact is that there are three former Patriots coaches servings as Tight Ends coaches in the NFL this season, Nick Caley, George Godsey, and Jerry Schuplinski.  

I have already written about Adrian Klemm and his importance to the team.  He come to the Patriots after a very strong stint at Oregon.

Schedule

You can’t do a preview without taking a look at the schedule and it is in a word – BRUTAL.

The Patriots beat the following QBs in 2022:

  • Zach Wilson (New York Jets) (2X)
  • Mitch Trubisky (Pittsburgh Steelers)
  • Jared Goff (Detroit Lions)
  • Jacoby Brissett (Cleveland Browns)
  • Sam Ehlinger (Indianapolis Colts)
  • Colt McCoy (Arizona Cardinals)
  • Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins)

This year they play:

  • Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins) (2X)
  • Aaron Rodgers (New York Jets) (2X)
  • Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)(2X)
  • Jalem Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
  • Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
  • Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers)
  • Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)

The schedule is the toughest in the NFL.  I could see a scenario where there is tremendous improvement in the team, but the record may not reflect that.  Last year the Patriots very easily could have won 10 games.  They shot themselves in the foot with some very un-Patriot like lack of discipline.  This pre-season things have been better in that department.  The Patriots are snapping out of the huddle and getting plays in on time.  Can the Offensive line gel quickly?  The 1st 4 games are the Eagles and Dolphins at home then the Jets and Cowboys on the road.  They could easily be 0-4 if things don’t come together quickly.  A 2-2 start would be tremendous.

One good thing about the schedule is that the Patriots don’t have the negative Days Off they did last year.  The Negative Days off is when a team loses days of rest in-between games.  Last season the Patriots had the worst negative Days Off in the league.  An example would be the BYE week days off.  The Patriots still got those days off, but they played the New York Jets the first game back from the BYE week.  The Jets also had the same BYE week.  Ironically, Buffalo had a +12 gain last year and may have contributed to their success.  This year the Patriots are in the middle of the pack with an equally balanced schedule.

In the Spring, when the schedule came out, I predicted a 6-11 record.  I am revising my prediction to 8-9, with Bill Belichick finding a way to squeeze a couple of wins out of them.  Here is the reason why I changed.

  • The Offensive Line is unproven, but I like its potential. They must stay healthy, and the improved record reflects them coming together quickly.
  • The Coaching Staff and in particular Bill O’Brien and Adrian Klemm. They are experienced and know what they are doing.  I am interested to see what kind of in-game adjustments they will pull off.
  • I believe the Defense will be improved over last year. Gonzalez will get picked on but will learn.  He will always around the ball and with experience will become better.  The pass rush may even be better this year with Barmore and White.  I like what Mapu can bring as a LB.  Can the DL stop the run?
  • Bill Belichick has taken back his team.  We have already seen a higher tempo in the Pre-season games from the Bill O’Brien Offense.  I believe you will see a cut down on the mental errors that plagued this team last season, particularly the procedure penalties called without the ball even put into play.

About Mark Morse

Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.


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Tags: 2023 Patriots Season

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