Here’s one thing the Patriots offense can hang its hat on at the bye
November 7th, 2022
The Patriots emerged from a 26-3 win over the Indianapolis Colts with extremely high marks for their defense and special teams units. Offense, not so much.
Most of the issues start up front, where the offensive line has struggled to block properly almost across the board. Injuries have compounded problems. The blocking struggles have at times forced the Patriots to leave their tight ends and/or running backs in as blockers, reducing Mac Jones’ downfield weaponry. But the bottom line is, the play-calling has been inconsistent and uninspired, and Jones is not getting nearly enough time to throw.
But there IS a silver lining, a small positive to take away from the win: tight end Hunter Henry took another step forward. He and Jones continue to build toward restoring their chemistry from 2021.
“It’s good, it’s coming along,” Henry told 985TheSportsHub.com after the game. “We put a lot of hours into this. It’s coming along. Just got to keep improving, keep getting better.”
Henry led the Patriots with 50 receiving yards and 12.5 yards per catch, and made the most explosive passing play of the day with a 30-yard grab down the seam in the fourth quarter. It was the only glimpse of any real explosiveness for Jones and the Pats’ passing attack throughout the game.
Henry also converted a third-and-7 with an 11-yard catch in the fourth quarter, and caught consecutive passes on a series to set up third-and-manageable. Never mind the explosive plays, it’s a wonder why they don’t go to Henry more for short, simple, drive-starters on early downs. That certainly worked better on Sunday than ramming the run game into the Colts’ stout defensive front.
Jones made it clear when he spoke to reporters after the game that he’s not satisfied with the offensive struggles, particularly the lack of big plays and grinding nature of their drives. It’s not a sustainable approach or level of production against a playoff team, or if the Patriots want to view themselves as a contender, and Jones knows it.
“Every drive can’t seem like it’s so hard to get yards,” Jones said. “We’ve got to be able to skip some third downs and move the ball and get explosive plays. Once again, defenses are kind of trying to take that away, playing a lot of two-high coverage and trying to stop that. So it’s a respect towards our skill players and the guys we have.”
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 06: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots carries the ball after a catch against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Why haven’t we seen more of Henry down the seam this season? The main reason: he’s not being used that way nearly as much. Seam routes are easier to run out of the slot, and Henry has lined up in the slot 40.3 percent of the time this season – way down from 61.6 percent in 2021. Henry has also lined up in-line 44.4 percent of the time, which is a big jump from 26.5 percent last year, and mainly as a blocker (via Pro Football Focus).
Hopefully, the Patriots will review the last three games, in which Henry has averaged 14 yards per reception while making plays down the seam, and realize that they should incorporate it more into the post-bye Patriots offense.
We’ll see if de facto offensive coordinator Matt Patricia recognizes what has been working with Henry, because it could go a long way toward building an actual identity with this offense. At least to figure out their bread-and-butter plays. Because the unit hasn’t had a ton to feel great about this season.
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