It remains too early to tell if the New England Patriots are undergoing a major schematic shift to their offense or just adding new wrinkles. But one thing for sure is things will be different to some extent.
Through several weeks of training camp, the new offense that has seen an increase towards Kyle Shanahan zone-run schemes and play-action passing concepts has struggled. While the hopes would be the “streamlined” offense would allow the unit to play faster, it was overall a sloppy operation throughout the first two weeks of camp.
As the offensive line struggled, Patriot defenders lived in the backfield and their rushing attack was nonexistent. Whatever quarterback was under center would often be forced to run for their lives, often resulting in a disgruntled throwaway out of bounds.
This is not the first time we’ve seen struggles around the league from a team transitioning to a scheme similar to Shanahan’s. When Shanahan’s long-time coaching assistant Matt LaFleur was named the Green Bay Packers head coach in 2019, LaFleur implemented his own offense which was built around Shanahan’s principles.
During his first offseason in Green Bay, LaFleur’s offense did not get off to the strongest of starts, as future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers had growing pains of his own adjusting to the new scheme.
Rodgers’ reported main gripe with the offense was his lack of ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Something he did so well in Mike McCarthy’s west coast offense was not a prominent part of LaFleur’s system which is built around pre-snap movement and timing.
That wasn't the only adjustment, as Rodgers noted the change of verbiage and communication in the system was part of the learning process, something Mac Jones and the Patriots have admittedly struggled with in their own adjustments this offseason.
“It’s a challenge for sure,” Rodgers told NFL.com back in 2019. “I ran the same system for so long. There’s a lot of stuff in my mind. Having to relearn certain terms, that’s been the hardest part. Learning new concepts that I don’t have any history with, it’s not that bad, because I had no point of reference. When you have the word that meant something in the new system for 13 years and now it means something else in the new system, that’s when it gets tougher. It’s still gonna take a while when I call the play; even when I’m breaking the huddle, I might say (to myself), ‘Oh, Shade equals Indy.’ My mind has a million things on it.”
A challenge it was for Rodgers, as the quarterback struggled to begin his relationship with LaFleur. In his first game under center, the Packers’ offense did not impress. Rodgers looked out of sorts at times, especially after three straight three-and-outs to start the contest. And despite still beating their division rival Chicago Bears, Green Bay put just 10 total points and 213 yards of offense on the board.
But as expected, the transformation was never going to happen overnight. As Rodgers and the rest of the offense got more comfortable within the scheme, the results started showing. Fast forward three years later, Rodgers is in the midst of back-to-back MVP seasons while the 2020 Packers’ offense led the league in points.
“This offense really stretches the defense formationally and with motions,” Rodgers said in 2019. “A lot of what this offense is based in, with Mike and Kyle Shanahan and Sean (McVay), it’s stressing you with tempo and formation and motions. It’s really testing the eye discipline, especially with teams that want to play more man coverage.
“There’s so much motion and action and reverses and fake reverses and stuff that really stresses the discipline on that side of the ball — and then allowing you to get out on the edge and have some downfield opportunities. It really tests where (defenders’) eyes are going — just things happening that (they’re) not used to for a team that just lines up and plays.”
For the Patriots, the early struggles may just be part of the process. While winning back-to-back MVPs may be a stretch at this point of Mac Jones’ career, the quarterback is confident him and his offense will improve their execution and ultimately iron out their wrinkles, just like Rodgers did in Green Bay.
“I’m going to figure it out,” Jones told reporters last week. “I always have. I always will. At the end of the day, you’re going to have your ups and downs with anything new, but I’ve learned a lot of different systems and the guys around me have too. We know what football looks like, we know what a good play looks like.”