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If Josh McDaniels leaves the Patriots, look no further than Bill O’Brien as his replacement

Related: Josh McDaniels to interview for Raiders’ head coaching job this week

2022 CFP National Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Turnover within a coaching staff is no new concept for the New England Patriots. So, as Josh McDaniels is set to interview with the Las Vegas Raiders for their head coaching position on Saturday, the Patriots likely have a shortlist of options to replace him as offensive coordinator.

Internally, there does not seem to be an obvious replacement. Besides McDaniels, the Patriots’ current offensive coaching staff features zero coaches with play-calling experience. Wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi would likely be a top candidate if the team did plan to elevate from within, but it might be best to look outside the organization, and at a familiar name in Bill O’Brien.

O’Brien was with the Patriots from 2007 to 2011, serving as the offensive play caller after McDaniels departed following the 2008 season and was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator in 2011 before becoming the head coach at Penn State.

Under O’Brien, the Patriots offense was largely successful, ranking sixth, first and third in scoring. While that team did feature Tom Brady and an assortment of other weapons, there is reason for optimism for similar success within the current Patriot offense.

To start, O’Brien’s 2010 Patriots’ offensive attack was a much better version of what this year’s Patriots tried to be. In 2010 — in which the team led the league averaging 32.4 points per game — New England had five different players record over 30 receptions. They spread the ball around and specifically attacked defenses in two tight end sets.

Speaking of two tight end sets, O’Brien’s 2011 offense saw both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez post a combined 169 receptions. After adding the most expensive tight end duo in free agency last offseason, it was expected the Patriots go back to a similar two tight end base offense. The opposite occurred however, as New England ran two-tight end sets just 18.6 percent of the time, whereas O’Brien’s 2011 offense lined up with two tight ends on more than 70 percent of their snaps.

Hoss-Y Juke was a fixture of the Patriots offense in that time, where the Patriots would find matchup advantages for their tight ends. If the Patriots’ were able to get Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry more involved in a similar way, their passing attack would certainly benefit.

As for Mac Jones, McDaniels leaving after just one year would be a loss, as continuity is often key for rookie quarterbacks. But, the quarterback does have a prior relationship with O’Brien.

O’Brien, who currently serves as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, shared that Mac helped him learn the Crimson Tide’s playbook when he arrived last offseason. Plus, taking parts of that Alabama offense to New England would help Jones tremendously.

The Patriots current offense featured a high-volume rushing attack that tried to create explosive plays vertically with play-action. Going forward, the Patriots should tamper their offense around Jones’ strengths, which is not driving balls vertically into tight windows. At Alabama, Jones led a spread offense that featured quick passing out of shotgun and run-pass option (RPO) plays to stretch the field horizontally and create wider throwing windows. In general, they played towards Jones’ strengths of accuracy and quick decision-making.

Allowing O’Brien to return to Foxboro with elements of Alabama’s passing attack would help create more explosive plays for the Patriots offense, while also making life easier for Mac and Patriot receivers.

While it’s still even unclear if Josh McDaniels will land the Raiders head coaching gig, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported he is a “top candidate” and that it is “hard to imagine” Raiders’ owner Mark Davis would interview McDaniels without believing he would take the job.

As for O’Brien, it’s unclear if the Patriots have been in contact with the 52-year-old to potentially be McDaniels’ successor, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter listed O’Brien as a “potential OC replacement” on Thursday. If the job does become available, he most likely will be on the top of New England’s wish list.