In case you haven't heard, the New England Patriots offense will look different this season. In what Bill Belichick has called a “streamline” process, the Patriots’ seem eager to “dumb down” their offensive terminology in terms of playing faster and putting more stress on opposing defenses.
Through a week-and-a-half of training camp, those changes are visible; New England has dipped into the Kyle Shanahan offensive scheme that has taken the league by storm. That scheme goes away from New England’s old “gap” run style, instead focusing on zone runs.
While the Patriots have always featured zone-style runs in their playbook, it seems to be the focus of the rushing attack this season.
Attacking the defense horizontally off the zone runs, Shanahan’s scheme can then attack with play-action and bootleg passes. That also has been present through six summer practices, as both quarterbacks, Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe, have been on the move.
The scheme has proven to work, as Shanahan has perhaps overachieved with quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Sean McVay is coming off a Super Bowl with his own spinoff, while Matt LaFleur has found success with his version in Green Bay.
For the Patriots, however, the new scheme has come with some expected bumps in the road. The first two padded practices featured the defense basically living in the offensive backfield, blowing up these outside zone runs and forcing both Jones and Zappe to tuck the ball and run.
“We have a lot of room to grow here,” Mac Jones said after practice Tuesday. “I think our offensive line is doing a good job. We just have to get on the same page. A lot of it is talking through it and finding ways to attack better. But we have great coaches that will get us there.”
A transition of any sorts on the offensive side of the ball requires patience, communication, and practice. While the start has not been ideal for New England’s offense, they know they have work to do to get things down pat.
“That’s the biggest thing, getting the plays on the screen and watching them,” Jones explained. “Alright, here’s the problem. This guy is unblocked. How do we block them? It takes reps and it takes watching film.”
While the zone runs have been the focus of the offensive shift change, the work extends into the passing game.
Another sign of change appeared on Tuesday, as the Patriots’ featured formations with tight splits from wideouts. Those have been a staple for Sean McVay in Los Angeles in recent years.
“Different teams around the league use tight bunches and a lot of times it’s for their advantage, and we’re trying to do that a little bit more,” Jones said. “There’s different plays you can run out of them so anything that’s different can help confuse the defense.”
So far, the Patriots defense has been anything but confused. After winning the day on Saturday (its third straight “win”) Jones departed the field rather quickly with a disappointed look.
“It’s very competitive and when we lose the day, to me, it’s like a shot in the heart. It’s like we lost the game,” he said. :There’s a lot more than that because it’s practice, you want to learn, but at the end of the day we’re out here competing and the goal is to have more good plays than the other team.”
While frustration may be starting to settle in for the Patriots’ offense, Bill Belichick stressed patience is key Tuesday morning. As Mac Jones said, there will be better days ahead.