On the one hand, you have Josh McDaniels. The Patriots’ long-time offensive coordinator left the organization this offseason to take over as Raiders head coach. His departure created a sizable hole on the offensive side of the ball — a hole his now-former club has filled in a surprising manner.
Instead of promoting an offensive coordinator from within, or going outside the building to hire a play-caller, they went with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to help lead the offense into a post-McDaniels era. Both have only done little coaching on offense before, primarily serving as New England’s coordinators on defense (Patricia) or in the kicking game (Judge).
And yet, head coach Bill Belichick put his trust in them to serve as play-caller and offensive line coach (Patricia) and quarterbacks coach (Judge). Now 13 games into the experiment, it is fair to question the arrangement given New England’s offensive struggles.
When asked about the transition this week, however, Patriots players were full of praise for all three of the coaches involved in it.
“We’re very fortunate to have a great deal of familiarity with Matt and Joe,” said special teamer Matthew Slater on Thursday. “That’s a huge benefit because they understand our culture; they understand what we’re trying to accomplish; they understand who we are, what our DNA is. That’s been a big plus for us.
“And then, obviously — I don’t want to get into too much detail — but transition is exactly that: there’s change, there’s things that are done differently. Personality, mindset, all those things are different from person to person. ... I have so much for appreciation for Matt and Joe, having spent the better part of 15 years with both of them. I think we’re lucky to have those guys.”
Slater’s remarks were echoed by the team’s quarterback.
“Josh was a great coach, and we’ve got great coaches here now too,” said Mac Jones. “Just have to learn from everybody, whoever’s coaching you, just learn from them. Everybody’s a little different, that’s what I learned at Alabama. Just had a bunch of different coordinators, but kind of ran the same system. That’s kind of where we’re at here.
“Just try to learn from everybody and take something away, the good stuff and add it to your bank of things you can do. Definitely really glad to get the experience with him. Then, obviously, this year working through a lot of things, getting the experience with the guys we have and they’ve done a great job. There’s some crossover, but we’re also doing some new stuff too.”
With Patricia and Judge leading the offense, the Patriots have been one of the least productive offenses in the league recently. But while it would be overly simplistic to pin all of the group’s problems on the pair, its substantial involvement cannot be left out of the equation either.
Play-calling has appeared to be questionable. Play designs have been unimaginative. The unit is lacking a true identity. Sum it all up and add a dash of injury and inconsistent play, and you can see why New England’s offense is ranked below-average in most major statistical and advanced categories.
The contrast to the McDaniels-run operation of years past is obvious — as is the appreciation his former players still have for him.
“I’ll always appreciate Josh. I obviously came up in the league with him and he taught me a lot. Appreciate everything he did for me personally, in my career,” said center David Andrews. “But it’s gone well. It’s really the first major coaching change that I’ve had in my career. I’ve never been anywhere else or had that, necessarily. I’ve had different offensive line coaches but coordinator’s still the same. Not even I college I had it. So, I’ve never really had a major turnover like that.
“I thought we’ve done a good job. There’s always some things we can work on. Whenever this season ends we’ll obviously go back and try to figure out what we can do, do a lot of self-searching. That’s what you do every year.”
For the time being and even with only four games left to go in the regular season, the Patriots offense remains a work in progress in Year 1 after Josh McDaniels. The transition away from him has therefore been a rocky one.
Regardless, as Slater pointed out, the show has to go on. That means New England will need to keep working through its issues in hopes of fixing them and making a push towards the playoffs — a process the long-time captain says has to take place in all three phases of the game.
“Obviously, the one thing we all want more of is consistency and not just offensively, but defense, kicking game,” Slater said. “That’s what we’re continuing to strive for.”