The Week 18 loss to the Buffalo Bills that ended the Patriots’ season encapsulated the entire 2022 season. In fact, as Bill Belichick took the podium to talk about the game, it sounded all but the same as Week 1 talking about how just a handful of plays decided the outcome.
Against Buffalo, there were signs of life offensively that ultimately fizzled out. The defense dialed up the heat Josh Allen and forced a turnover while keeping Buffalo to 21 points. And it was a horrible special teams showing as they gave up two (!) kick return touchdowns.
Sounds familiar? It should.
As the page now turns to the offseason, the Patriots announced in an unprecedented move that they will begin the process of hiring an offensive coordinator next week, while they also are close to extending Jerod Mayo on the defensive staff. It’s a strong start, but there is plenty of work still to be done.
Let’s empty out the first #PostPulpit mailbag of the offseason.
@Goldfishwars Who should be the OC next year and who will be (gut feel)?
@Collin_Demo Does Matt Patricia call plays again next season?
Matt Patricia will not call plays for the Patriots next season. They will make the changes they need too.
As for who will take over, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on. Bill O’Brien is the obvious choice, but others with some sort of relationship to the team include: Kliff Kingsbury, Zac Robinson, and Chad O’Shea. Adam Gase, Frank Reich, or Gary Kubiak could also peak Belichick’s interest, but I'd lean towards the former names.
In the end, my prediction is the chalk one in Bill O’Brien. Unless he gets a head coaching offer — which seems unlikely — it just seems like that’s where the stars are aligning. If not O’Brien, Kliff Kingsbury or Zac Robinson are my other top choices.
@BosSportsFan13 Are we moving coaches or are we firing
No coach will be fired. That is not how Belichick operates and I have a hard time believing he’ll start now as it will immediately label them as the scapegoat. When new offensive coaches are brought in, the ones on the staff could be reassigned or seek opportunities elsewhere.
For Patricia, I would predict a move back upstairs to his Senior Football Advisor role. As for Judge, the assumption would be he would want to stay on the offensive side of the ball for resume reasons, but the team could look into moving him back into a prominent role with the special teams unit.
@Skywal1Thaddeus Who could the Pats realistically hire as the new QBs coach?
This is a good question because the Patriots need to do more than just hire an offensive coordinator. Bringing in one coordinator will help, but they could still use a guy at Mac’s hip throughout the year (like Bo Hardegree did in Mac’s rookie season) and a full-time offensive line coach.
The coaches will likely be decided by whatever offensive coordinator they bring in, so it’s hard to predict. If it is Bill O’Brien, I'd keep an eye on current Ravens’ tight end coach George Godsey. Godsey worked in Foxboro under Bill O’Brien in a number of offensive roles before becoming his QB coach in Houston in 2014.
@doonan222 Do you think the mass defection of the offensive staff to the Raiders last year is a signal that Belichick needs to rethink his small coaching staff? Carrying so few coaches leaves them vulnerable, happened when Flores took the defensive coaches & now with McDaniels taking the O.
Absolutely. The Patriots’ staff is usually on the smaller side and they have struggled replacing the brain drain in recent years — especially recently when they knew McDaniels was eventually set the leave. It’s also perhaps part of the reason they decided to dumb down the offense this season and is why they should bring in handful of coaches for this year.
Also, this question always makes me look back at the 2014 Super Bowl staff. Check out the talent and depth on that coaching staff.
The 2014 #Patriots staff - which had both Daboll and Graham - is still insane to look back on.— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) February 3, 2022
Belichick, McDaniels, Fears, O’Shea, Daboll, Patricia, Graham, Daly, Flores, Boyer, Judge, O’Brien. https://t.co/hubCG0gYwX
@MichaelDiCo95 Should Pats look at hiring a co-GM to help BB? When BB retires as coach Pats also lose a GM. Get him in now to ease transition.
I would say the personnel department has been strong the past few years with Matt Groh and Eliot Wolf taking on bigger roles. They probably aren't as eager to add here like they are to their coaching staff, but I wouldn't mind the return of Jon Robinson, who was fired by the Tennessee Titans midseason, in some capacity if he does not land another gig.
@ThomasK3107 Stick with mac or twist?
I still find it hard to believe it will be anybody but Mac Jones under center next year. But, this is the year that Jones has to prove himself as the team will have to make the decision on his fifth-year option in the 2024 offseason.
When Mac Jones entered the league in 2021, his weaknesses were clear. He does not have the arm talent of a Josh Allen or Justin Herbert and can not extend plays with his legs. He lacks elite physical tools.
The lack of arm talent has plagued Jones while playing under pressure, which is one of the biggest areas he needs to improve next season. This season, Jones finished with the third-worst passing grade this season while under pressure (26.4), ahead of just Zach Wilson and Kyler Murray. Out of his 11 interceptions, eight were under pressure while 11 of his 14 turnover worthy-plays were as well.
New England’s offensive line play did not help him this season, as his mental clock appeared to be completely thrown off. There were too many instances when Jones bailed out of the pocket to try and make a play (often resulting in a sack) instead of standing in and beating the pressure with his decision-making.
The lack of arm strength was also extremely evident with Jones then on the move. When given a clean pocket, he can generate velocity, but off platform throws or ‘playground ball’ is when he leaves plays on the field. Against Buffalo on Sunday, Jones makes a nice play to step up in the pocket but the ball dies on him as he does not reset his feet and throws on the run. If hit in stride, Hunter Henry has plenty of room to run.
There is certainly more to quarterbacking than playground ball, but plays like the one above leave needed yards on the field — largely because of Jones’ lack of physical tools.
@bustin257 Stats aside, what do you see in Mac Jones that says he can lead a team to the Superbowl?
To me, Jones is a quarterback that you can win with but a strong supporting cast around him is needed. They didn't have that cast from the personnel around him to the coaching staff this season.
For much of the season, the Patriots operated as the Cincinnati Bengals. They lined up and played a simple style of football.
The difference? The Bengals have Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, etc. New England doesn't have the quarterback or skill players to just line up and beat the opposition. That is where they need the coaching staff to scheme things up and put Mac Jones and the players into positions to succeed.
With Jones, that success has come under-center while using play-action. New England dialed back their play-action usage heavily this year compared to 2021, while Jones operated primarily in the shotgun.
Mac was in the shotgun on 83 percent of his drop-backs this year, ranking 32nd out of 40 quarterbacks in EPA per shotgun drop-back (-0.19). Playing just 15 percent of his snaps under center, he produced +0.11 expected points added per drop-back. New England also had better success rate rushing from under center, but lived in the shotgun.
While playing under-center more seems like an easy fix, the only problem is that they tried to move away from that style of offense as it showed its ceiling in the Wild Card beatdown to the Buffalo Bills last year. The hope entering the year was to allow Jones to play in an Alabama-esq. system to push the ball downfield. It didn't work as he turned the football over at an alarming rate for the first three weeks of the year before getting hurt, and they also didn't have the receiver talent to consistently win on the outside.
Whoever they bring in on the coaching staff will need to find an identity and balance to get the offense away from simplicity, and the hope is Jones will be surrounded by better players in order to help do so. If that happens and Jones still looks bad, it’s back into the QB carousel next off-season for New England.
@PatsSTH1969 Is it Left Tackle or Corner at 14 and is that decision based on what might be there at 46?
So how do we surround Mac with talent? It starts up front. We discussed how bad he was under pressure, so let’s shore up the offensive line. In 2021, Jones ranked better under pressure with a better offensive line which correlated to more trust within the offense.
If I'm in charge, I’m signing a tackle in free agency and then drafting another one with the 14th overall pick. Mike McGlinchey on a five-year deal has my interest before drafting either Peter Skoronski or Broderick Jones. That shores up your tackle position for the next five years assuming both pan out.
As for cornerback, an outside cornerback with length is definitely a need. For as good as Jonathan Jones and Marcus Jones were this season, their size is unfortunately an issue as you saw against Cincinnati. They’ll have a decision to make with Jonathan Jones - and potentially Jalen Mills - but adding a boundary cornerback should be on the short list.
@Caraway6 What WR would make sense to add via free agency or trade that can help this offense improve? Who is even realistically available or obtainable?
Another part of putting Mac Jones in the best situation is to give him a true No. 1 receiver like his former Alabama quarterbacks (Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa) received in their third year (A.J. Brown, Tyreek Hill).
For New England, they're always disgruntled receivers who want to be moved but the options appear slimmer as usual at this point in time. In free agency, Jakobi Meyers and Juju-Smith Schuster are the top two options. Neither are of the true, elite WR1 quality.
That would bring them to the trade market, where DeAndre Hopkins appears to be the top dawg available. Hopkins would make sense and is likely obtainable if he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause. One issue there could be a potential reunion with Bill O’Brien, as the two reportedly had a rocky split in Houston, but we’ll cross that bridge if we get there.
If Hopkins is not the guy, the best thing to look at is ‘pre-agency’ — meaning guys who are one removed from free agency, or their fifth-year option, and looking for new contracts. Justin Jefferson and Ceedee Lamb top that list, but that is an absolute pipe-dream. Realistic options then include Tee Higgins and Jerry Jeudy. Higgins would be the guy for me if Cincinnati decides to move on, but Jeudy wouldn't be a bad addition as well.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!