Through nine training camp practices, the new-look New England Patriots offense has not been one to write home about. While there have been more flashes of success recently, the unit has overall been sloppy. The run game is nonexistent, the defense is living in the backfield, and quarterbacks are holding the ball and running all over the place — not by design.
Now, nobody expected a new offensive scheme to be mastered on Day 1. It’s never pretty learning a new thing and it certainly takes time when 11 guys have to learn a new thing all together at once.
It’s early, but as Bill Belichick pointed out himself, this is a continuation of the spring. So, while we don’t expect the new-look style to be full speed ahead, the early and often blunders — which forced them to take off the pads for a “red-pen” day last week — has been a bit alarming.
And frustration is growing, highlighted by quarterback Mac Jones. Early in camp after the defense “won” their third straight day, Jones did not look happy as he quickly departed the field. More recently on Thursday, Jones’ rolled out to his and just flipped the football underhanded out of bounds in yet another “no-chance” play.
When words like “streamlined” were thrown around consistently throughout the offseason, it looked like the changes may be New England catering their offense to their 23-year-old quarterback’s strengths.
Those strengths? Spreading the field out and allowing Jones to accurately and quickly get the ball out. That’s how he succeeded at Alabama, mixing in run-pass option plays (RPOs) and playing out of the shotgun primarily.
Yet, when New England took the field in the spring, that was not the case. Like last year, Jones remained under center. The streamlined offense did not resemble the one Jones played in at Alabama, but more of a zone-run scheme that Kyle Shanahan has made famous in today’s NFL. Through two weeks of training camp, we’ve seen the same.
It’s no doubt that style of offense has been successful. Kyle Shanahan led his San Francisco 49ers’ to the Super Bowl in 2019 and NFC Championship last season, while Sean McVay in Los Angeles won Super Bowl LVI with his own spin of the offense.
But the question is, is that the best offense for the Patriots to build around their franchise’s cornerstone, Mac Jones? Especially as Shanahan and McVay have given up resources and money to move on from passers like him for quarterbacks with more traits (better arms, more athletic, etc.), such as Trey Lance and Matthew Stafford?
Throughout nine practices, the early answer to that question may be a scary one for New England residents. Jones has looked confused at times on the field, not by his lack of football knowledge, but seeming to not understand why things are being run from time to time. The frustration only seemed to be growing.
There is hope, however.
Again, the zone-scheme has proven to be successful in today’s NFL. And while Shanahan and McVay moved on from Mac-type passers, the expectation is Jones develops into a much better player than Jimmy Garoppolo or Jared Goff after his strong rookie season.
And while there was always going to be growing pains, the Patriots are known for using September as a continuation of the preseason; finding the identity they want to play behind the rest of the season. Perhaps that period is longer than normal this year as the offensive shift causes more harm early on before providing long-term benefits.
It’s easy to see why the Patriots opted for a change. They hoped to dumb the offense down in hopes of playing faster, feasibly making life easier to integrate college wide receivers into the offense as well. But it is fair to ask if the shift to this specific scheme is the right one, especially as some of the few successful offensive plays in camp this summer have been when they spread out the offense and allowed Jones to attack using his strengths.
Either way, the Patriots have their work cut out ahead of them, and again, it’s important to remember it’s still only August. But, they have appeared to choose the path they want to go down, and they better hope it’s the best one for Mac Jones.