The offense received the lion’s share of the criticism, but the New England Patriots’ special teams operation was not a whole lot better in 2022. Frankly, the group struggled last year before finishing the season on a low note — giving up two kickoff return touchdowns in a season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills.
All in all, the Patriots surrendered three scores in the game’s third phase; they had a punt blocked and ranked near the bottom of the league in gross and net punting. Rookie return man Marcus Jones was a bright spot, but the unit as a whole was not up to the task.
And yet, it appears special teams coordinator Cam Achord will not be going anywhere. The 36-year-old, who has held the job since the 2020 season, was part of New England’s staff at the East-West Shrine Bowl and there is no indication the team is planning to move on from him.
Head coach Bill Belichick’s statements at the NFL ownership meetings on Monday can be seen as further proof of that.
“Well, last year was last year. There were a lot of things that weren’t good enough,” he said when asked about New England’s kicking game issues.
As for Achord, Belichick gave him a vote of confidence.
“Good coach, yeah. Led the league in special teams in ’20. I don’t think that’s the problem.”
Belichick did not get into any detail about what the actual problem was. There are some areas that come to mind as possibly problematic, though — from Justin Bethel’s release, to Cody Davis’ season-ending injury, to several rookies and first-year Patriots taking on prominent roles, to the punter position not being on the level needed.
New England made several special-teams-related moves so far this offseason. Matthew Slater was re-signed on a one-year deal, as was Cody Davis; Joe Cardona was made the highest-paid long snapper in the NFL; five-unit special teams linebacker Chris Board was added to the mix in free agency, same as punter Corliss Waitman.
Whether or not those personnel decisions will lead to improved special teams performance will be seen. But Belichick and company have seemingly recognized the need for change — a need that, despite his endorsement of Achord, possibly also extends to the coaching staff.
Joe Judge, the Patriots’ long-time special teams coordinator and Achord’s predecessor, is expected to assist the current staff. Judge served on offense in 2022, but will be moving into a different role this season that will see him work closely alongside Belichick as assistant head coach as well as a resource for Achord and his own assistant, Joe Houston.
Belichick, however, would not make any statements about his role.
“We’ll make our comments on the staff a little bit later on here in the spring, when we get everything settled,” he said.