Through the first eight weeks of the NFL season, the New England Patriots offense has continued to struggle. The unit ranks 31st in football averaging 14.8 points per game, while eclipsing the 20-point mark just once.
“It hasn’t been what we want it to be. It’s been very inconsistent,” offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said Tuesday. “There’s been glimpses of, ‘Hey, this is, this is good, this is what it can be. This is the rhythm that we need to get into.’ There are plays that are well executed, well coached, well designed and then these are other things that aren’t as good. And so it’s very, very inconsistent… We have to try to make it more consistent.”
The path to becoming more consistent is now even harder for New England, as wide receiver Kendrick Bourne suffered a torn ACL in Sunday’s loss that will sideline him for the duration of the season. In a struggling offense, Bourne has been a bright spot leading the team with 406 receiving yards and four scores while playing a career-high 73 percent of the offensive snaps.
“I’m not gonna sit here and sugar coat, everybody says next man up. I mean, that’s the way it is, of course, that’s the way it is,” O’Brien said. “There’s no other choice but, KB brought a lot of energy, a lot of juice to this offense and really attacked every day. I’d only been around him for the seven or eight months that I’ve been here and he’s a great guy and he was having a really good year.”
With Bourne heading towards injured reserve — and DeVante Parker likely set to be sidelined after a head injury — New England is down to five receivers on the active roster. For those five, they’ll now have their opportunity to earn increased reps.
“The next guy has to step up and fill that role and it’ll probably be several guys. I don’t know who those guys will be right now,” O’Brien said. “It comes down to the practice field. It really does. How do you practice? Are you ready to go by the time Saturday Sunday rolls around? Then Bill [Belichick] will determine who’s active for the game.
“That’s really how it is. And so it’s a big week for the receivers, big week.”
Throughout the year, Bourne has primarily served as the Z-receiver in New England’s offense. Based on skillset, that likely leaves JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Kayshon Boutte as his two top replacement options.
After signing a three-year deal with the club this offseason, Smith-Schuster has been non-productive when healthy. He did not even see the field on Sunday until the fourth quarter when Bourne went down, playing just 18 total snaps.
The door should then be open for Boutte to see increased time with the current state of the team. After playing 55 snaps in the season opener, the 21-year-old has been inactive since as he continues to adjust to life in the NFL.
“He’s coachable. He’s out there every day,” O’Brien said of the sixth-round receiver. “I think rookies, I’ve always said that a rookie receiver, it’s very difficult transition, especially on the perimeter because in college football, you’re not always seeing the same type of coverages that you see in professional football. It’s just the way it is.
“And so sometimes the transition to pro football is a little bit tougher. It takes a little bit longer. But, Kayshon worked very hard and he’s showed glimpses of what he can be and I believe in him and I believe he’s got a good future.”
Fellow sixth-round pick Demario Douglas has gone on the opposite trajectory as Boutte, becoming more and more involved in New England’s offense of late. While Douglas’ production may see an uptick, his usage will likely not see a drastic change as he was already sharing the field with Bourne.
“I probably wouldn’t equate the two positions, the two guys in that way,” O’Brien explained. “I think that Pop plays a certain role of certain position in our offense. That’s a little bit different than some. Sometimes they were combined. But, it’s a little bit different.
“I think Pop’s got a good role in our offense. It will continue to grow as he gets more experience in the things that we’re trying to do. And Pop’s done a good job with the things that we’ve asked him to do. So, he’s definitely has a role in our offense.”
The last wild card in New England’s receiver room is the speedster Tyquan Thornton. In his first two games after being activated off injured reserve, the 2022 second-round hauled in just two catches for eight yards. In a Week 7 victory against Buffalo, Thornton played just three snaps after what appeared to be an early route running miscue. He was then a healthy inactive last week in Miami.
“Tyquan has has really worked hard, he was injured. I think injuries have been something that in his brief career have held him back a little bit. And I think when you get injured and you’re out for as long as he has been through no fault of his own, no fault of his own.” O’Brien said.
“But because of the fact that you missed time, it’s hard to get back into the lineup right away. There’s other guys that have been playing. There’s a depth chart. But, I do believe that he’s worked at it and he’s a guy that has a lot of skills that we look for in a receiver. Let’s see what happens as we head into the second half of the season.”