Coming off a disappointing 8-9 season and failure to qualify for the playoffs, the New England Patriots raised some eyebrows in mid-January when they publicly announced plans to hire a new offensive coordinator. While the move was expected to happen, seeing the club release a statement on it was an unusual course of action.
It was, however, a necessary one. The Patriots, after all, struggled mightily on that side of the ball in 2022 and never seemed to build any momentum in their first year after long-time coordinator Josh McDaniels.
The numbers speak for themselves. New England’s offense ended the regular season ranked 22nd in points per game (18.1), and 26th in yards (314.6). Additionally, it finished the year 24th in expected points added per play (-0.047).
No matter how you look at it, the group was bad. And that fact led to some internal friction within the organization as a new report by the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan and Karen Guregian now shows.
The entire story is worth a look, but it shows in all clarity how one decision in particular put the unit on the wrong track: picking assistant coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to lead the group in Year 1 after McDaniels, and spearhead a transformation that was referred to as “streamlining” during the offseason.
Obviously, that never worked out — for several reasons. For starters, the revamped system failed to build on what McDaniels had implemented during his previous 10 years and instead tried to tear much of it down.
The base offense the Patriots drilled last spring and summer barely resembled the system Belichick had overseen for 23 years. Under Patricia and Judge, the Pats began to meld a reduced version of the playbook former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left behind with parts of Sean McVay’s Rams scheme. The Patriots intended to emphasize the outside zone runs already present in their playbook and install play-action passes from McVay’s offense, among other motions and formations.
The results were disastrous.
As pointed out in the story, the Patriots eventually decided to pivot away from much of what was intended to be installed as part of that streamlining process. It simply did not work, in large part because the installation process in training camp itself was not an effective one:
One source described a typical training camp practice under McDaniels involving the installation of 25 pages worth of fresh run plays, another 25 of passing plays and upwards of 40 pages for the offensive line learning protection schemes.
Under Patricia and Judge? Those numbers were cut by roughly half.
The problems extended beyond the installation phase, however. The offensive staff, which included a large portion of returnees from the McDaniels era, also did not have solutions to questions posed by players more experienced in a McVay/Shanahan-like system.
The result of that was continued on-fly adjustments that further hampered the unit’s growth.
At times, those worked well. New England had some encouraging stretches of play from time to time, looking good — for example — against Detroit and Cleveland when backup quarterback Bailey Zappe was in. However, the group failed to evolve beyond the basic-level stages in part because of what appeared to be an insistence of sticking with the initial plan rather than going back to what did work in the past.
The core of the problem was the coaching. On the one hand, Matt Patricia’s plans to change the blocking scheme — he served not just as play-caller but also offensive line coach — led to a lack of cohesion up front; on the other hand, quarterbacks coach Joe Judge appeared to be phased out of the operation midway through the season.
Joe Judge, [players] later suspected, was in a long process of being phased out. It was a stark change from training camp when Judge would command meetings and share the play-call sheet in team periods with Patricia and Belichick. Judge also coached across positions in practice, forcing other assistants to occasionally correct his talking points to players during drills.
“I think there were times the coaches were frustrated, especially the ones who had been on staff in years past and knew what we had done,” one source said.
As Patricia came under outside fire as the face of the offense, Judge drew increasing criticism from within. Belichick would blast him in practice, and it wasn’t uncommon for Judge and Jones to trade profanity-laced outbursts. Jones’ trust in his position coach was effectively non-existent.
Mac Jones, who had played at a Rookie-of-the-Year level the previous season, regressed while being coached by Patricia and Judge. His numbers took a nosedive, and his frustrations became visible on several occasions.
Getting him back on track, and to develop into the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be, will be paramount in 2023. And it sure looks like neither Patricia nor Judge will be as actively involved in the process this time around: the Patriots’ announcement led to a coaching search that concluded when Bill O’Brien was hired as offensive coordinator earlier this week.
O’Brien will have his hands full getting the unit back on the right side of things, but his track record and experience certainly are superior when compared to the résumés Patricia and Judge brought to the table last year. Bill Belichick trusted them nonetheless, but the experiment backfired.
Now, the team’s head coach has taken the steps to correct the mistake. But only time will tell whether or not the damage done in 2022 can eventually be overcome.