New England Patriots

New England Patriots

  • Thursday night’s 24-10 Patriots loss to the Bills featured yet another frustrating performance from the Patriots’ offense. They picked up just one first down on their first five drives, and failed to surpass the 300 yard mark for the fifth time in six games.

    The frustration with the offense wasn’t just limited to the fans watching the game. Second year quarterback Mac Jones was shown on replay during the broadcast visibly upset, calling out the play-calling on the Patriots’ sideline.

  • After the game, Jones was asked about the clip and clarified what was going on in that moment. “Obviously, just kind of let my emotions get to me but we’re kind of playing from behind,” he explained. “What I said was about throwing it deeper in the short game…I felt like we needed chunk plays. I shouted that out to kind of get everyone going. That’s emotional. That’s football. I’m passionate about this game. Obviously, you don’t want to let your emotions get the best of you. But yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.”

    “It wasn’t directed at anybody,” Jones continued. “Just emotion coming out and we kind of needed a spark.”

    He was say the comments weren’t directed at anybody – and that’s the right thing for him to say in that moment – but critiques about the play-calling have to be viewed in the context of the play-caller, who in this case is Matt Patricia.

    Jones wasn’t the only Patriots player to comment on the play-calling either. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne made some notable comments to reporters after the loss as well.

    “We need to scheme up better. We need to know what they’re doing. We need to know what they wanna do on third down,” he said via Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald. “They call this, and we call that, and it falls right into what they want.”

    “They had, what, 30 first downs and we had eight. It’s something they were doing against us was working, and something we were doing against them was not working,” Bourne continued.

    Bourne also spoke about the way the Patriots have matched up their route concepts to the pass protection. “We’ve got to get the ball downfield,” he noted. “Mac needs more time. He’s obviously running around. It’ hard to get the ball downfield when you don’t really have time to throw. No knock to the line, it’s just what we need to work on.”

  • Meanwhile, Nelson Agholor had this to say when asked about the Patriots’ passing game concepts. “That’s not for me to worry about. I train my routes, work hard & do what I’m asked to do,” he told NFL Network’s Mike Giardi. “I’m not a coach. I’m just a receiver trying to play hard and make the plays that come my way.”

    The frustration is becoming apparent in the Patriots’ locker room – at least among the offensive players – and it’s hard to say it’s not warranted. After finishing last year ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring, and returning the heavy majority of their offensive core with young players in key roles expected to grow, the Patriots are averaging a whole touchdown less per game this season. They’ve gone from scoring over 27 points per game to just under 21 this year, which currently ranks 22nd in the NFL. They’re down in a number of other offensive statistical categories as well including averaging 318.9 yards per game, which ranks 26th.

    What’s changed? The team lost two starting guards, but had a starting-caliber player to replace one in Michael Onwenu, then invested a first-round pick in Cole Strange to complete the depth chart. They used their next pick on a speedy outside receiver in Tyquan Thornton, and upgraded at the ‘X’ spot going from N’Keal Harry to DeVante Parker.

    While yes, the unit has dealt with injuries this year, that was the case last year as well. James White figured to be a key part of the offense but missed most of the year. Agholor, Damien Harris, and Rhamondre Stevenson also missed multiple games. Up front, center David Andrews was the only offensive lineman to play all 17 games, while everybody else missed at least two.

  • Dec 1, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The New England Patriots line up against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 1, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The New England Patriots line up against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

  • The only other major change has been with the coaching staff. Josh McDaniels left for Las Vegas in the spring, and took most of the positional coaches with him. Patricia took over as play-caller and offensive line coach, with Joe Judge replacing Bo Hardegree (who joined McDaniels in Vegas) as the quarterbacks coach.

    There have been some other personnel changes, but those were all coaching driven. While both tackles remain on the roster from last year, they switched sides back in the spring with Isaiah Wynn playing on the left side and Trent Brown playing on the right. Both players have failed to play up to the level they did last year at their new positions. There was also the decision to let Jakob Johnson walk in free agency and eliminate the fullback position from the newly-evolved offense, which has since undergone multiple changes within itself going back to the preseason.

    Under this coaching staff, the offense has also become one-dimensional at times. Stevenson is a fantastic player and is having a great season, but too often it seems like he’s the Patriots’ only answer when it comes to creating explosive plays. Other teams have started to key in on that, and schemed their defense around taking him away – as the Bills did Thursday night. When that happens, there doesn’t seem to be a reliable counter from the Patriots game plan-wise, something Jones and others seemed to be hinting at – some subtly and some not so subtly – after Thursday night’s loss.

    When they have countered, it’s been with one-off gadget plays such as the screen to Marcus Jones. Those plays can provide a spark, but aren’t a sustainable form of offense on their own. End-arounds have been another attempt to show the defense a different look, but those haven’t done the trick either as the Patriots wide receivers and tight ends collectively are averaging just three yards per carry this season.

    After Thursday’s loss, Bill Belichick was asked why the offense is still struggling to click this late into the season. “Well, I’ll just say tonight, like I said, we just didn’t do enough,” he replied. “Had some opportunities and weren’t able to take advantage of them.”

    Pressed with a follow up as what he sees as the differences from last year to this year that has led to the dip in offensive efficiency?

    “Just got through with the game here.”

    The Patriots offense still has a lot to figure out, both in the short term and the long term. There’s a lot to be discussed, but right now it looks like coaching could be high on that list.

  • 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.

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