If you watched the New England Patriots offense at any point in 2022, you are probably well aware that the unit struggled for much of the year. There is no single factor why that was the case, but it is fair to point out coaching as a major issue among many.
The first year after long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels saw the team try to replace him using a collaborative effort led by assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge — two coaches who had limited previous experience working on that side of the ball. The experiment backfired, prompting the Patriots to hire Bill O’Brien as OC and quarterbacks coach earlier this month.
Most of the blame for the offensive dysfunction was placed on Patricia and Judge, who were seemingly in over their heads. However, it turns out head coach Bill Belichick also played a rather active role in the offense taking a step back last season.
As was pointed out by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer on Monday, Belichick went as far as “moonlighting” as offensive play-caller on occasion:
My understanding is Belichick was active on the headsets on game day, having the sort of oversight over the offense that he’d traditionally had over the defense, and moonlighting as play-caller at points (which is why, at times, calls were late going in, and the offense could look messy from an operational standpoint).
That, of course, was a tacit acknowledgment of the mistake he’d made setting up the staff the way he did in the first place ...
Belichick being actively involved on game day and in the play-calling aspect of running the offense was a change of action compared to the previous years. McDaniels, after all, enjoyed virtually free rein to run the unit while he was coordinator — a testament to the trust his head coach bestowed upon him.
With him in Las Vegas, however, Belichick saw the need to get more hands-on. That in itself should not come as too big a surprise; he is the head coach and it is his responsibility to ensure the team operates properly even if it means calling plays himself.
Belichick also already set himself up to shoulder that responsibility in the offseason when he opted not to hire a seasoned coordinator and play-caller to replace McDaniels. The collaborative effort between himself, Patricia and Judge was already on full during offseason workouts and continued into the regular season (even with Judge seemingly getting “phased out” midway through the year).
Ultimately, though, there are two opposite poles one can stand and look at Belichick’s reported involvement on offense in 2022:
1.) The unit might have looked even worse without it: Belichick jumping in to call plays might very well have been the result of operational issues, and him doing his best to fix them on the fly as well as he could. From that perspective, Belichick had to put out fires created by Patricia and Judge (i.e. the coaching setup he himself chose).
2.) The unit might have looked better without it: There is a chance that Belichick jumping into the operation caused further disruption and put stress on the communication between the sidelines and quarterback Mac Jones. From that perspective, New England’s head coach further muddied the waters by changing calls.
Based on Belichick’s track record the first perspective seems more likely, but that does not mean the second is also not legitimate. At the end of the day, however, the results remained the same: New England’s offense struggled in Year 1 after McDaniels; the collaborative experiment had failed.
Was coaching alone the only issue? No, but it is one Belichick is actively trying to fix. His hiring of Bill O’Brien is proof of that, even though it remains to be seen whether or not he can be the stabilizing force the Patriots offense lacked in 2022.