For the majority of the past two decades — 283 regular season games and 41 playoff contests, to be exact — the New England Patriots offense revolved around Tom Brady and his skillset. He was never the fastest, nor the strongest, nor the most fleet-footed athlete, but Brady had a command of his unit unlike any other quarterback the NFL has ever seen.
With him having taken his talents to Tampa Bay earlier this offseason, however, the Patriots will have to adapt to a new situation and starting quarterback. That role will likely be held by long-time Carolina Panthers passer Cam Newton, who was acquired as a free agent in July and established himself as New England’s QB1 over the course of training camp: Newton saw the most reps and appeared to be progressing well in an unfamiliar environment.
The former league MVP obviously brings a different skillset to the table than Brady, given that he is a vastly superior athlete and more of a threat to advance the ball with his feet. That said, the Patriots’ offense as a whole will not look decidedly different in 2020 compared to the last almost 20 years — at least according to one of Newton’s fellow quarterbacks, veteran Brian Hoyer.
“No, not really,” said Hoyer when asked whether or not he has seen any potential changes to the system now that Brady has left. “Look, there’s 20 years of foundation in this offense. I think the one thing that I’ve realized is that each year that I’ve been a part of the team, the offense is a little bit different. You adjust to your players, your personnel, the defensive scheme... and I think that’s the great thing about this offense, it’s always evolving.
“There’s a great root of core plays and formations and things that we have. And I think on a week-to-week basis that’s what we do: we go in and see what we can do to attack the defense.”
In terms of time spent within the Patriots’ offensive system, Hoyer is the most experienced player the team currently has in its quarterback room.
An undrafted free agent in 2009, he spent the first three seasons of his career in New England as Brady’s backup. Hoyer then embarked on a journey that led him to Pittsburgh, Arizona, Cleveland, Houston, Chicago and San Francisco before bringing him back to the Patriots midway through the 2017 season. He won his first Super Bowl with the club in 2018 before spending 2019 in Indianapolis. Hoyer returned to Massachusetts for a third stint earlier this year.
Hoyer knows a thing or two about the team’s offense, because he has seen a thing or two.
The same can, of course, also be said about the man in charge of the unit: Josh McDaniels, who is in his 12th overall season as New England’s offensive coordinator. McDaniels’ approach to designing his offense and adapting it to the personnel available across the board and at the quarterback position in particular — Newton and Hoyer are joined by second-year man Jarrett Stidham and rookie Brian Lewerke — has also not changed.
“Adapting the offense and tailoring it to a player at that position is no different in one regard to adapting it to the certain type of receivers or tight ends or backs you have,” McDaniels said during a media conference call earlier in training camp. “You do the things that those players understand and do the best. For me, that part is consistent.
“Certainly, Tom leaves and there’s a different player here, so that’s going to be a change. But I would say the way we approach it, the way we are trying to work to improve and grow as a football team that’s the thing I’m always keeping in mind: we’re a team, we have to be one part of the three-part whole. So, our job is to go out there, try to score as many points as we can, take care of the football, win the field position battle when we can.”
McDaniels may have spent the majority of his career as an offensive play-caller alongside Brady, but he does bring some experience to the table building an offense around other players. In 2008, Brady played only a handful of snaps before tearing his ACL; in 2016, he was suspended for the first four games with Jimmy Garoppolo and later Jacoby Brissett being forced to step in. New England went 13-6 in those games, which says a lot about the coaching staff’s abilities to adjust on the fly.
The theme and the system’s foundation remained the same along the way: put the players in the best position to be successful while also morphing into the most efficient version possible to attack the upcoming opponent.
“We’ve had things before where we’ve chosen to work with different types of schemes — even in the past with Tom at times. But you try to tailor things to the players’ strengths that you have,” McDaniels said. “We’ve got more than one quarterback that has done some things in their careers that I haven’t done, that I haven’t coached, whether that be in college or in pro football.
“Obviously you have certain things you have in your package, you have in your playbook, you have in your system that you choose maybe not to use as much during the course of a certain period of time, and then you bring it back out when it’s applicable. [...] We always try to put new schemes and new things into our offense during the course of each day in training camp because that’s really what simulates a normal game week for our players.”
The Patriots will enter the process of preparing for their season opener this week, with a new quarterback in place. The offense as a whole, however, remains largely intact when it comes to its foundation and core principles.