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Will the offensive coaching arrangement be a problem for the Patriots?

Related: How can Tyquan Thornton avoid going down the N’Keal Harry route?

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are in Las Vegas this week for a set of joint practices and subsequent preseason game with the Raiders. The trip also gives the team an opportunity to catch up with an old friend, long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

McDaniels departed New England earlier this offseason to take over the Raiders’ vacant head coaching gig. His now-former team, meanwhile, decided to leave his former role unoccupied. Instead, head coach Bill Belichick opted for a different arrangement — one that has been discussed at length throughout the offseason.

Instead of having a coordinator on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots opted to use Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as the unit’s leading coaches. Patricia is officially listed as senior football advisor/offensive line while Judge’s title is offensive assistant/quarterbacks. The lack of an official coordinator to run the show and call plays might seem perplexing, but New England has operated in a similar manner before.

What is different this year, however, is that neither Patricia nor Judge have any significant experience coaching on the offensive side of the ball. Patricia spent two years on offense in 2004 and 2005, but has since been a defensive coach; Judge worked as New England’s wide receivers coach in 2019 but has served primarily on special teams.

Both have head-coaching experience from their time in Detroit and New York, respectively, but now find themselves in an entirely different position. Oh, and they also are working on streamlining the operation by making some schematic tweaks.

This, in turn, has led to one prominent question around these parts of the country:

Will the offensive coaching arrangement be a problem for the Patriots?

Bill Belichick apparently does not think so, but the offense as a whole has shown plenty of inconsistency early in training camp. It did show some improvements recently, but it very visibly remains a work in progress with three weeks to go until the start of the regular season.

In order to get a different perspective on that story, though, we asked Cale Clinton, co-author of the Football Outsiders Almanac — please click here to purchase your copy — in what is the fourth installment of our Q&A series. Here is what he said:

The uncertainty on offense should be a huge concern. It was the main question I had about the offense when writing up the Patriots chapter. The uncertainty around play-calling roles coupled by a potential new system could throw a big wrench in some of [Mac] Jones’ development. His high-level football IQ should mitigate some of that, but that kind of uncertainty and instability can lead to some headaches. Uncertainty heading into the season is the last thing New England needs, especially when their early slate of games is against defenses like Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Green Bay.

The one thing New England has that could mitigate some of those problems: versatility at their skill positions. Say what you will about the lack of a top wide receiver, but everyone in that room has a role. Jakobi Meyers in the slot, Kendrick Bourne as a gadget guy, DeVante Parker as a contested catch specialist, Nelson Agholor as a vertical threat. Each receiver has a skillset that creates a unit with the potential to be better than the sum of its parts. That isn’t just the case at receiver, either. Look at the running back room. Damien Harris has been a brilliant early-down back. Rhamondre Stevenson was a bruiser with the potential to break off big runs. ... Even at tight end, there’s versatility. Hunter Henry was great, and even when Jonnu Smith fell out of the passing game, he finished the season with more rushing attempts than we had ever previously seen from a tight end. Any offense New England implements, they’ll have the tools they need to make it function. Let’s just hope whoever ends up calling plays can figure that out.

At the end of the day, the Patriots have implemented a process after McDaniels’ departure and they appear to be willing to stick to it. The results thus far may have been uneven, but the fact remains that there is still sufficient time to fix the errors and get everybody — coaches and players alike — on the same page.

So, will the coaching arrangement be a problem for the New England offense? Maybe. Maybe not. As with a lot of things NFL at this time of the year we will just have to wait and see.

Part 5 of our conversation with Cale will focus on New England’s under-the-radar talent.