Bill Belichick’s big offensive gambit fails. Is it ready to fix it?


In August, during a visit to an AFC East team’s training camp, I brought up the fact that the NFL media was buzzing about a particularly sloppy set of drills at Patriots training camp. New England, it seemed, was trying to nail a bunch of running plays in wide area and struggling with execution—the linemen were running with each other, the running backs were swinging left and right. One rival executive reveled in a quick laugh at the idea of ​​New England spinning its wheels before quickly turning serious to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”


It’s never a good idea to count the Patriots out, given their long tradition under Bill Belichick of simply finding a way. And at 7-7, after their baffling last-second loss to the Raiders on Sunday, the Patriots still technically have a chance at the playoffs, albeit a slim one that sees the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills as their last three opponents. But it’s time to call it quits – really, it did Also the time.

New England has never been above average this year and it was all there to see before the season even started. Belichick wasn’t playing 4D chess by trusting Matt Patricia to attack; It was a decision that executed exactly as everyone but Belichick expected it to. They are who you thought they were.

The surprise in all of this is that the Patriots look like a poorly coached team. They’re fickle – Belichick’s team is tied for 10th in penalty kicks, has committed the fourth most offensive penalties, and is tied for the eighth most in penalties before being beaten. They don’t take advantage of their power. Despite being one of the best play offenses in the league (11th in total projected points added, according to TruMedia), they have made fewer snaps using play action than any other team besides the Saints. Because they arrived Tipping plays caught against at least two opponents this season. The quick game He was accused of sucking. They are particularly bad situationally; They are 29th in third percentage, ahead of only the Panthers, Texans, and Broncos, and last in the league in both red zone percentage and fourth quarter pass rate. On Sunday, before losing a game on a play that became an immediate contender for the dumbest in NFL history, New England was called back on two straight plays due to a bad timeout and a false start penalty on tight end Jono Smith. They also had a kick block that set up a Raiders touchdown before halftime.

This all comes as a surprise because of who the boss is, but signs this was coming. Belichick’s gambit for the season was to trust Patricia, with help from former Giants coach Joe Judge, with primary responsibility for the offense and development of Mack Jones at a critical point in the sophomore quarterback’s career, at a time when New England was trying to modernize its offensive system by Incorporating elements of a more traditional West Coast pass. This was clearly quite a leap of faith given Patricia’s defensive background and disastrous tenure as head coach in Detroit (plus Judge’s own staff background and disastrous tenure in New York). I am shocked to tell you that things did not go well! The offense that struggled at camp ranked 25th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and scored 21 points per game. The offensive line, the most visible issue in preseason practices, moved up to 22nd at Average cyst rate During the 15th week, running backs are allowed to be stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage more often But eight other teams.

Notably, although Patricia’s role was the de facto offensive coordinator for the season, his title is “Football Counselor/Offensive Line”. During training camp practices that I’ve seen, Patricia spent most of his time calling offensive plays alongside Belichick while assistant Billy Yates mostly worked with offensive linemen. The division of labor was notable given how the line was struggling, particularly as it underwent what looked like a scheme shift to a wide area run game as part of the offensive shift tried at camp, a complex change that required teaching players new basic blocking techniques. Ultimately, this shift never became a core part of the Patriots’ offense, and they’d probably like to have those cast back.

The worst of it was the lack of development from Jones after a promising rookie season. A young quarterback’s second season is often the time to make the leap forward; At the very least, it’s a time when a team should try really hard to put them in a good enough environment to discover their true potential. None of those things happened to Jones in New England this year. Jones has generally slipped in 2022, but more importantly is how he performs under pressure. His completion percentage is down from 53.7 percent in 2021 to 41.9 percent this season, his yards per attempt from 5.93 to 4.3 (32nd among qualified rookies), his passer rating from 74.2 (13) to 25.5 (32) and he threw six compact interceptions to Now that I’ve thrown four all seasons in 2021. It’s hard to separate how much of that is on Jones and how much of that is on the play and his offensive perimeter, but that’s the whole point. Nearing the end of his sophomore season, Jones’ performance on the Patriots offense is statistically indistinguishable from that of his predecessor Cam Newton, and the only thing New England has really learned about him is that he doesn’t seem to like Patricia.

Accountability is one of the pillars on which Belichick built the Patriots dynasty. It was enforced from top to bottom through a paramilitary power structure. The wrinkle now is figuring out how to maintain that standard when those who obviously don’t meet him are among the higher-ranking members of the coaching staff, let alone Belichick’s closest friends. An important New England assistant coach hasn’t been fired since offensive line coach Dave DiGolielmo was let go after the 2015 season. Since then, the team has been to three Super Bowls, so pink slips haven’t been as badly needed, making this an irrelevant issue. Really familiar to the team. It should also be noted that after the 2015 season was also when Belichick promoted his son, Steve, from a rookie defensive assistant job to a head coaching position, and hired his other son, Brian, to the faculty position. The New England kids seem to have done well in their roles, but it’s undeniably more complicated to hold the rest of the staff accountable for performance when, at least, some of their peers hold privileged positions. If a player does less than how the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff appears to be doing this year, we know from dozens of examples that his role will be minimized. These precedents are not obvious to coaches.

Without accountability for this season’s failures, things will not get better and may even get worse. Jones used to shout his displeasure towards Patricia on the sideline for all to see. This week, Belichick contradicted himself in an interview by saying he believed he had an arm for the attempted Hail Mary at the end of the Raiders game. After the Week 13 loss to the Bills, Jones repeatedly mentioned his desire to be “trained harder”, something Josh McDaniels praised for doing in the run-up to a Raiders game. He has said he doesn’t know why the Patriots rely so heavily on rifle formations. And Jones wasn’t just saying those things. Receiver Kendrick Bourne said after the Bills loss that “Receivers can’t do anything if the ball can’t go down, if we can’t throw it after 5 yards.” Earlier this month, NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry mentioned The offending players were taking it upon themselves to hold the coaches accountable for being detail oriented in setting up the game.

Your mileage may vary depending on how undesirable that seems, but the upshot is that schematic issues can build into trust issues very quickly if players feel like their leaders are holding them back without consequence. The Patriots season is over — it really is Also It ended, and it may not have started. The story for the upcoming season will be whether or not someone will be held accountable for Patricia and the offensive coaching staff’s failures. I will believe it when I see it.

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