Passing is king in the NFL, and has been for quite some time now. The New England Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are partially responsible for that, with their use of spread offenses in 2007 kicking off a schematic revolution still felt to this day.
At its heart, the 2021 Patriots offense is not that much different from the 2007 version. A significant part of the play designs and schematic ideas is still around, while the verbiage has not changed. Josh McDaniels is the link tying he two units together.
Heading into the postseason and a wild card matchup with the Buffalo Bills — one of those pass-heavy teams following the footsteps of those ‘07 Patriots — McDaniels is not attempting to rekindle past magic, at least not in that sense. He and his offense will be taking an old-school approach of sorts built around power football rather than throwing the ball all over the field.
McDaniels said so himself earlier this week.
“We know this time of the year, it doesn’t matter what the weather is, it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, being able to run the football, being able to stop the run, being able to cover kicks, this is a team goal in terms of our overall toughness and physicality. It’s an important part of winning this time of the year,” he told reporters during a media conference call.
The Patriots are not the most run-heavy team in the league, or even the playoff picture. Both of those titles belong to the Philadelphia Eagles, who were calling runs on 51.2 percent of their offensive plays during the regular season. New England, for comparison, ran the ball on 46.5 percent of its plays.
Still, with a rookie aligning under center the Patriots have relied on their running game to get the job done. It did just that quite a few times this season already, and McDaniels is counting on it to do it again come playoff time.
Obviously, though, he is aware that relying on what worked in the regular season is an easy way to set the offense up for failure.
“You have to be able to change gears pretty quickly in this league or else somebody can really checkmate you,” he said. “We try to do the best we can week to week — it’s not always perfect, we certainly make mistakes — but I think our running game, for the most part, has been fairly effective.”
McDaniels, who also noted that he wants his team to “play fast and aggressive on Saturday night” against Buffalo, has drawn up some good-looking run concepts this season. The question is not just whether he can do the same in the playoffs, but also how he will adapt once the old-school playing style has run its course.
The Patriots, after all, have started slowly in three of their last four games and eventually had to turn to Mac Jones to move the ball down the field. Come playoff time, they have to be ready to make that move again even if they prefer leading off with their ground again.