With loads of changes on the offensive side of the ball, improving the communication has been a constant theme from the New England Patriots this offseason. As the Patriots open up their season on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, communication will again be a focus.
“It’ll definitely be important, just like it is on every single play. Communication is key,” right tackle Isaiah Wynn said on Friday.
The Dolphins defense is known to be an aggressive bunch. Led by defensive coordinator and former Patriot assistant Josh Boyer, Miami blitzed at the second-highest rate in the NFL last season.
“They pressure the quarterback. Their DBs blitz probably more than any team in the league, and they pressure the quarterback a lot,” Bill Belichick explained earlier this week. “That doesn’t mean every pressure is an incompletion or interception; there are completions there. But in general, they get free guys or get players attacking the quarterback, and that’s the start of disruptive plays.”
Free rushers have been one of the biggest challenges for the Patriots this preseason. With new starters at four offensive line spots and new coaches leading a new scheme, the unit struggled mightily.
On Sunday, New England’s pre-snap communication will immediately put to the test to try and slow down Miami’s aggressive defensive unit.
“Communication’s huge every week, but especially this week,” tight end Hunter Henry told reporters before Friday’s practice. “They have a great defense, they’ve played a lot of football together so their able to communicate really well and we’re gonna have to do the same. We’re going to have to have a plan and communicate well when we get out there.”
The struggles throughout the preseason have resulted in poor execution in the new zone-run game. New England ran 17 zone-runs during the preseason for a measly 2.6 yards-per carry, while not recording one rush longer than 10 yards. The poor results raise the question as to whether New England will turn their focus back to their gap plays.
For now, the Patriots will hope the dedication to their craft will pay off once the season begins. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson told reporters earlier his week that they are “pretty confident” in their run game.
“I agree,” Wynn said when asked about Stevenson’s assessment. “Running game is very important. Of course you want to start off running the ball and establish that level of dominance and physicality.”
Beyond the rushing attack, the aforementioned free rushers have left quarterback Mac Jones under frequent distress in both training camp practices and preseason games - again leading to a need for improved communication. With Jones often running for his life, the Patriots have not yet reaped the benefits of their new offensive scheme.
“It’s similar, but also different,” Henry said when asked about the changes in offensive terminology from last season. “Every team, every single year is trying to make tweaks at what they’re good at, what they weren’t so good at, adding things that other teams do really well. Every offense, every single year - both sides of the ball - every team is trying to make tweaks to make themselves better.”
Based off their work throughout the summer, one of those tweaks appears to be the use of more 12 personnel with Jonnu Smith and Henry on the field together this season. Henry, however, wouldn't reveal any secrets.
“I guess you’ll see on Sunday,” he said with a smile.