A majority of the first 11 practices of New England Patriots training camp followed a similar narrative. The defense looked good, while the offense struggled with consistency especially during 11-on-11 work.
Operating under new leadership — long-time coordinator Josh McDaniels departed earlier during the offseason — as well as some schematic tweaks, the unit remains a work in progress. But while the slow start looks concerning from the outside, the Patriots themselves are not worried about the state of their offense right now.
Head coach Bill Belichick made his clear on Tuesday, answering several questions about the unit’s apparent lack of efficiency thus far.
“There’s good things and bad things on every play,” Belichick told reporters. “Some of the good plays that we had on defense were really not good plays if something else would have happened on the play. Some of the bad plays that we had on defense lot of the times everything’s right but one thing. Same thing on offense; everything’s good but one thing’s wrong. So, we go back and fix that.”
The Patriots appeared to have several breakdowns on the offensive side of the ball through the first three weeks of camp. The blocking in particular seemed to struggle, with the running backs rarely finding space to operate and the quarterbacks under consistent pressure.
Now led by Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as well as Belichick himself, the Patriots made some changes to their blocking. They partially pivoted away from their gap-based blocking to incorporate more zone plays, while the protection schemes were also modified a bit.
Changes were necessary following McDaniels’ departure after 10 years at the helm of the offense, but thus far they have not yielded the desired results — or so it seems from the media area. Belichick, however, made sure to remind reporters not to take everything at face value at this time of the year.
“If you look at the result of the play that’s one thing. If you look at the 22 components of the play, 11 on each side, that’s a totally different breakdown. There’s an element of both but if you don’t get the 11 things right eventually you’re going to have problems,” he said.
“Might look good on a particular play out here, might look bad if something different had happened on the play; quarterback throwing to somebody else, if the right block had been made properly would have been a bad play for the defense, or vice versa for the offense. We kind of look at everything. I know you’re very results-oriented, I get that, but it’s more than just the result of the play. It’s what all 22 people are doing.”
The offense in particular struggled to get anything going on Monday, leading to some visible frustration from players such as quarterback Mac Jones, running back Damien Harris and center David Andrews. The next day, however, the group showed some improvement especially up front.
The running game was able to generate some positive plays, while pass protection also looked better. That said, everything is relative according to Belichick’s perspective on practice.
“The results are the results but the components within the play, there are a lot of things that look good that aren’t good; there’s a lot of things that aren’t good that are pretty close to being good. If we just do one little thing a little bit better it will make a big difference in the outcome of the play,” he said on Tuesday. “Good plays aren’t all good play. There’s plays everybody ‘Ohhs’ and ‘Ahhs’ about but really they’re not going to work.”
One other point raised by the Patriots’ head coach was the amount of team work put in at this point in the process. Six fully-padded practices in, he pointed out that it had not yet reached what it will or need to be later on during the season.
Instead, players and groups are focusing on their individual assignments more so than the total composition of a play or personnel group.
“Everybody’s working on what they have to do,” Belichick said. “And there are a lot of different combinations, so a lot of different people are playing with other people and there’s not as much continuity as hopefully there will be at a later point during the season or as we get into the season. Most everybody’s really focused on what they have to do and how they can do it.
“Within that we’re building our communication within the units and pre-snap communication, but I know it’s not what it will be. Does it help? Sure. Do we want it better? Yeah. But a big part of training camp is individual fundamentals. We spend a lot of time talking about scheme and communication and all that but if our fundamentals aren’t good I don’t think that’s the answer. I think the answer is to have good fundamentals and then the rest of that comes in due time.”
The Patriots will return to the practice fields on Wednesday to do some preparatory work for their preseason opener versus the New York Giants the following day. That game, which will only see a limited amount of game planning beforehand, will be the next big test for the team — and one that will give us a clearer picture of where the squad currently stands.