The offense had its worst year since 2000, and it reportedly all started in training camp.
In theory, a Patriots offense run by two coaches with 23 combined years of experience with the team should be quite effective. In practice, however, last year’s offense under Matt Patricia and Joe Judge showed worrying signs from the start.
According to reporting by the Boston Herald, the duo’s plan when longtime Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gave them the reins was to mesh the former playbook under Josh McDaniels with a Kyle Shanahan style offense, making their living off of zone runs and the play-action passes and roll-outs that can develop off of them.
The actual result: an offense that scored under 19 points per game for the first time since the 2000 season when Tom Brady was just a rookie buried on the depth chart.
While both Patricia and Judge had showed their skills in the past coaching defense and special teams respectively, it was a little surprising when Belichick chose them to take charge of the development of quarterback Mac Jones (Judge), the offensive line (Patricia), and the offense as a whole (both).
Belichick also lost many of the top offensive assistants that were with the team when McDaniels was the offensive coordinator. The team changed running backs, quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive line coaches before last offseason.
Under the stewardship of Judge and Patricia, there weren’t many successes, and according to the Herald the problems began in training camp.
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At one point when the team was struggling to work their play-action passes, they decided to just scrap most of the plays, an even harsher move towards a simplified offense that would later come back to bite them. Defenses presented the same looks to the Patriots throughout the season and challenged them to make adjustments, which they rarely did.
“I love coach (Belichick),” an anonymous member of the Patriots is quoted as saying. “But he f***ed us.”
The move away from play-action and more complex schemes like RPOs also worked against the strengths of quarterback Mac Jones during the season.
As a rookie, Jones had an average of 8.5 yards per play on play-action passes and had a 71 percent completion rate. For all other passes those figures were 7 yards and 67 percent.
Last season Jones maintained his efficiency with play-action passes, but the amount that the team ran was reduced. His accuracy numbers and yards per attempt also fell last season when he wasn’t running play-action
When it comes to RPOs, Jones is even more effective. For his career he has an 86 percent completion rate when he throws out of RPOs and a 65 percent mark in all other concepts.
Last season, however, the team ran about half as many RPOs as they did the year before.
Another issue with the new schemes was that not all of the coaches involved were familiar enough to have them succeed.
“A lot of guys would ask, ‘Well, what’s going to happen if (the defense) does this?’ And you would see they hadn’t really accounted for that yet,” one source told the Herald. “And they’d say, ‘We’ll get to that when we get to that.’ That type of attitude got us in trouble.”
Not only did the scheme break down at the coaches level and fail to capitalize on the talents of Jones throughout the season, individual position groups became greatly confused over new methods being introduced by the staff.
According to an NBC Sports Boston report, the offensive line struggled in particular because their coaches decided to change the way they communicate with each other on the line during games. This included how they decided what protections they would be in and whose assignments were whose.
The result was 110 pressures on New England quarterbacks and 41 sacks. That is the most sacks the team has given up since Matt Cassell started 15 games in 2008 and was sacked 47 times.
Perhaps the greatest worry for the offense should have been the role of Joe Judge as quarterbacks coach and essentially co-playcaller with Patricia.
Belichick decided to bring back his former special teams coordinator after he went 10-23 as the head coach for the Giants and struggled to develop quarterback Daniel Jones after a promising rookie year under a different coaching staff.
According to the Herald, Judge’s problems with his quarterbacks and offense followed him back to the Patriots.
“Mac didn’t like him. At all,” an anonymous source told the Herald.
There was even a point last year where Jones reportedly felt he had to look outside the team for ways to fix the offense and any potential ways to liven up the play calling.
In the end, the offense’s lack of cohesion and failure to develop a dynamic, effective game plan sunk the Patriots’ season. For their responsibility in the offense’s downfall, it appears that Judge and Patricia could be on their way out of New England as they were not chosen to help Belichick and the rest of the staff coach the East-West Shrine Bowl this year.
The goal now for Belichick, hope that new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien can continue to nurture his connection with Jones and just run a competent offense next year.
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