New England Patriots

After weeks of speculation the Patriots are now expected to hire Bill O’Brien as their next offensive coordinator, as first reported Tuesday morning. While this may feel like the end of a long process for many Patriots fans, it’s also the beginning of one.

O’Brien stepping foot into Gillette Stadium doesn’t magically fix what ailed the Patriots last season. Rather, he was the best candidate to get under the hood and begin the process of turning things back around for a unit that dropped from sixth in the league in scoring in 2021 to 17th in 2022.


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  • Where will that process start? It should be with what the Patriots struggled with most in 2022 – sustained offense.

    The 2022 Patriots offense may not have been though of as a ‘big play’ offense, but the numbers suggest otherwise. When it comes to ‘explosive plays,’ they were actually one of the top teams in the league.

    Explosive plays, in this context, are classified as offensive plays from scrimmage that gain 25-plus yards. The Patriots were third in the NFL in 2022 with 45 such plays, trailing only the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.

    This is where the problem begins though. The Patriots failed to cash in on these plays, for two main reasons. First, their big plays weren’t that big. It became a quantity versus quality thing. While they ranked third overall in explosive plays, they were the only team in the NFL without a play over 55 yards. They were tied for last with just one 50-plus-yard play, a 53-yard catch-and-run by Jonnu Smith against the Browns. Meanwhile, they were second in the NFL behind the Chiefs with 44 plays gaining 25-50 yards.

  • Not having the biggest big plays isn’t in itself an issue – especially at the frequency the Patriots had them – as long as the team is capitalizing on the field position set up by those plays. But, this is where the Patriots’ second issue comes in. There wasn’t much sustained short area offense in between those big plays.

    In terms of yards per play, the Patriots ranked 17th in the NFL in 2022. That’s probably higher than some would expect, right in the middle of the pack.

    However, that number his inflated by the Patriots’ 25-50 yard plays. On non-explosive plays, the Patriots were 27th in the NFL in yards per play, and 29th heading into their regular season finale against the Bills.

    The purpose of taking the explosive plays out of that number isn’t a Felger & Mazz-like trick to shrink it to kick the team. Rather, yards per play on non-explosive plays is an indicator of how well a team can sustain offense and methodically move the ball.

  • FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 06: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots huddles with teammates during the first quarter of a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 06: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots huddles with teammates during the first quarter of a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

  • A well-balanced offensive team would rank similarly in overall yards per play and yards per play on non-explosives. For instance, the Chiefs ranked first in total yards per play and second in average on non-explosive plays. Miami was fifth and fourth, respectively, while Philadelphia was sixth and sixth. That wasn’t the case for the Patriots, who went from middle of the pack to next to the bottom of the league.

    To put it simply – the Patriots had a lot of big plays, but those big plays weren’t that big. And they couldn’t move the ball well enough between the big plays to sustain offense. They had moments where they got down the field in a chunk, but getting the ball into the end zone after that chunk was an issue, leading to a number of field goals attempts and short punts.

    As O’Brien rolls up his sleeves and gets to work with the Patriots’ offense for 2023, his primary focus doesn’t need to be making the offense ‘more explosive.’ Instead, it should be increasing the effectiveness in the short and intermediate areas, allowing the explosive plays to be more impactful.

  • INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 10: Alabama Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien looks on prior to a game against the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JANUARY 10: Alabama Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien looks on prior to a game against the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2022 CFP National Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 10, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • The good news is that at least some of the tools are already in place to make such an adjustment. Throughout his college career and into 2021, Mac Jones was at his best when throwing to the intermediate part of the field – especially to the sideline. Jakobi Meyers is an excellent intermediate receiver, but even if he leaves in free agency Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry have proven they can contribute in that area as well. Jonnu Smith and Pierre Strong project as the kind of players that, in previous iterations of the Patriots offense, would be able to turn short passes into medium gains after the catch.

    In the ground game the Patriots will have another year of Rhamondre Stevenson, ideally behind a restructured and more cohesive offensive line. Stevenson ranked sixth among running backs last season averaging five yards per carry, although at the same time it feels that number could improve in 2023.

    Getting O’Brien through the door was a big step for the Patriots to take this offseason. Now that he’s in the building, it’s time to start thinking about what kind of changes he’ll make.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.